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Coronavirus spread 16m quarantined in Italy

By Agencies
March 09, 2020

ROME/DHAKA/LOS ANGELES/RIYADH/TEHRAN/BEIJING/GENEVA: A quarter of the Italian population (16 million) was locked down Sunday as the government takes drastic steps to stop the spread of the deadly new coronavirus that is sweeping the globe, with Latin America recording its first fatality.

Italy has seen the most deaths from the COVID-19 disease of any country outside China, where the outbreak that has now killed more than 3,500 people and infected over 100,000 worldwide began in December.

The measures in place until April 3 bar people from entering or leaving vast areas of northern Italy without good reason, according to a decree signed by the prime minister and published online. The quarantine zones are home to more than 15 million people and include the regions around Venice and financial capital Milan, while cinemas, theatres and museums will be closed nationwide.

Meanwhile, inmates in four Italian prisons have revolted over new rules introduced to contain the coronavirus outbreak, which include a ban on family visits, a prison officers union said Sunday.

Prisoners at jails in Naples Poggioreale in the south, Modena in the north, Frosinone in central Italy and at Alexandria in the northwest had all revolted said the union, Osapp.

At Modena, near Bologna, two prison officers were injured and around 20 staff members had to leave the prison after the inmates revolted. The prison was now being guarded by police officers, the Ansa news agency reported.

It comes as Argentina on Saturday became the first Latin American country to report a fatality from the virus that has affected 95 nations and territories.

Meanwhile, Saudi authorities Sunday cordoned off the eastern region of Qatif in a bid to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus as the total number of cases rose to 11.

The lockdown on Qatif, home to around 500,000 people, is the first action of its kind across the Gulf region that has confirmed more than 230 coronavirus cases -- most of them people returning from religious pilgrimages to Iran.

"Given that all 11 recorded positive cases of the new coronavirus are from Qatif it has been decided to temporarily suspend entry and exit from Qatif," the interior ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Except for essential services such as pharmacies and gas stations, work will stop in all government and private institutions in Qatif, the statement added.

The lockdown, although the ministry said it was temporary, risks fuelling resentment in the flashpoint region whose residents have long accused the government of discrimination, a charge Riyadh denies.

Bangladesh on Sunday confirmed its first three cases of coronavirus in the south Asian country, said the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).

The affected people, aged between 20 and 35, include two who returned home from Italy recently, IEDCR Director Meerjady Sabrina told reporters. The other was a family member of one of those two, she said. “They are in stable condition and are being treated in a hospital,” Sabrina said. Three more people who came in contact with the infected people have been kept in quarantine as a precaution, she added.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said earlier on Sunday her government was prepared to tackle the virus, urging people not to panic.

California on Sunday prepared to disembark passengers from a virus-hit cruise ship as officials played down any risk to local communities.

The Grand Princess, which has 21 novel coronavirus infections among the 3,500 people on board, is set to dock in Oakland Monday after four days held off the coast of nearby San Francisco. Passengers "will not be released into the general public" but will either be moved to hospitals for treatment or to federal "isolation facilities" in California, Texas and Georgia, officials said Sunday.

Oakland´s port was chosen as it was the easiest location "to seal off, securely move passengers toward their isolation destinations and protect the safety of the public," the governor´s emergency services office said. Crew will remain quarantined on board the ship which "will depart Oakland as soon as possible." "No one will be quarantined in Oakland, nor will any passengers be released into the general public," said the city´s mayor Libby Schaaf.

The contagion has already spread to 30 US states, killing at least 19 people, with New York announcing a state of emergency.

Iran´s health ministry on Sunday reported 49 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest toll within 24 hours since the start of the outbreak in the country.

"At least 194 of our compatriots who fell sick with the COVID-19 illness have passed away," health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference.

The outbreak of the virus in Iran is one of the deadliest outside of China, where the disease originated. Jahanpour added that 743 new infections were also confirmed within the past 24 hours, bringing the number of cases to 6,566 spread across all of Iran´s 31 provinces.

Iran Air announced on Sunday the suspension of all its flights to Europe until further notice.

The statement issued by the company made no mention of the novel coronavirus epidemic as a reason for the measure, citing only "restrictions" imposed by European authorities for "unknown reasons". The Iranian carrier operates flights to multiple European destinations including Paris, London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Vienna and Rome.

China on Sunday reported its lowest number of new coronavirus infections since January, with nearly all the 44 new cases in the outbreak epicentre Wuhan.

There were 27 new deaths from the virus, all in Wuhan and the lowest in more than a month, bringing the nationwide toll to 3,097, according to the National Health Commission.

Only three cases, all imported from abroad, were reported outside of Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, in Beijing and the northwest province of Gansu.

New infections reported from Hubei have been on a downward trend for several weeks and multiple cities in the province have reported zero new cases in recent days.

The two cases reported in Beijing Sunday were arrivals from Italy and Spain, the capital´s health commission said. The number of coronavirus cases has risen worldwide to more than 100,000, with 3,500 dead across 95 nations and territories.

The rapid spread of the deadly new coronavirus is expected to take a serious toll on foreign direct investments worldwide, with UN economists forecasting a drop of up to 15 percent.

A fresh report from the UN Conference on Trade, Investment and Development (UNCTAD) warned that regardless of how quickly the COVID-19 outbreak lasted it would significantly drag down global FDI, which is a measure of cross-border private sector investment.

Efforts to halt the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 3,500 people and infected more than 100,000 people around the world, have wreaked havoc on international business. The UN agency pointed to estimates that growth in the global economy will slow between 0.5 and 1.5 percent this year, depending on whether the outbreak is reined in during the first half of this year or if it rages through the end of 2020. The corresponding "downward pressure on FDI will be 5-15 percent," the report said.