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Agencies
March 31, 2020

Trump extends US social distancing rules to April 30: Moscow comes under lockdown

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A
Agencies
March 31, 2020

MOSCOW/LONDON/JERUSALEM/MADRID/WASHINGTON; Russia’s capital became the latest world city to impose a coronavirus lockdown on Monday as declared cases globally topped 775,000 while number of deaths crossed over 37,000 with more than 3,000 fresh deaths and the planet braced for a drawn-out battle against the disease.Worried governments are imposing fresh confinement measures in the face of a spiralling COVID-19 death toll that saw another 800 people die in the last 24 hours in Spain alone.

With leaders everywhere warning it will take months to restore normality, Africa’s largest city Lagos was also preparing to join the more than one third of humanity ordered to stay in their homes.

Across the globe, desperate hospitals are filling up with patients despite governments imposing the most dramatic changes to the way people live since World War II in a bid to halt the deadly march of the disease.

The sweeping measures have wiped out millions of jobs, left economies teetering and rendered once-teeming cities eerily empty, yet there remains no real end in sight to the pandemic.

More than 36,000 people have died worldwide and the number of confirmed cases passed 760,000 on Monday. More than 3.38 billion remain under lockdown.

In Moscow, Europe’s largest city with a population of 12 million, the streets were deserted following the closure of all non-essential shops, including restaurants and cafes, although some traffic was still seen on the roads.

Citizens will only be allowed to leave their homes in a medical emergency, to travel to essential jobs and to shop for food or medicines. They will, however, be allowed to walk their dogs within a 100-metre radius of their homes.

President Vladimir Putin has declared a "non-working" week in Russia, which on Monday reported 302 new cases -- the biggest daily increase so far -- taking the total tally to 1,835 infections and nine deaths.

Coronavirus is tightening its grip on the rest of Europe, with Britain and hard-hit Italy warning at the weekend that measures to prevent the spread of the disease would be in place for months to come. "We are in a very long battle," said Italian government medical adviser Luca Richeldi.

Spain, which has the world’s second biggest death toll from the disease, announced another 812 virus deaths in 24 hours, although it was the first decline since Thursday. Locked-down France staged its largest evacuation of coronavirus patients to date from hospitals in the hard-hit east on Sunday, with two specially equipped high-speed trains carrying 36 patients. "We have to free up beds, it´s absolutely crucial," said Francois Brun, head of emergency services at a regional hospital in Metz.

The sheer scale of the economic impact continues to leave governments reeling, with German experts saying the virus would shrink output there this year by up to 5.4 percent.

The strains on society imposed by measures that might have seemed unimaginable just weeks ago are gradually starting to show.

Food banks in New York have been inundated with newcomers. "We need the help now. This is crazy," said Lina Alba, 40, a single mother with five children who worked as a maid in a Manhattan hotel until it closed two weeks ago.

In Sicily, armed police began guarding entrances to supermarkets in Sicily after reports of looting.

In New Zealand, a website for people to report their neighbours for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules was so popular that it crashed soon after going live.

The crisis is also testing the balance between civil liberties and the need for restrictions to curb the disease.

Hungary´s parliament was on Monday expected to endorse a controversial bill giving nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban sweeping new powers he says he needs to fight coronavirus.

Meanwhile the phenomenon of virus-stricken cruise ships continued with a liner entering the Panama Canal Sunday while it still searched for a port that will allow passengers to disembark. "Four people are now dead, and that is on the head of all the people along the way who turned us away," US passenger Laura Gabaroni said after she became one of the healthy people allowed to leave the Zaandam liner.

Africa´s biggest city, Lagos, was due to join the global stay-at-home from Monday, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordering a two-week lockdown for its 20 million people. The measures, in force from 2200 GMT, also apply to the capital Abuja.

Nigeria, Africa´s most populous nation with some 190 million people, has so far registered just 97 confirmed infections and one death from COVID-19, but testing has been limited.

Zimbabwe also began enforcing a three-week lockdown, with most shops shut and all fights in and out of the country cancelled.

As in the rest of Africa and much of Asia, enforcing a total lockdown will be a mammoth challenge in a region where tens of millions live in poverty.

Meanwhile, British heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, who had tested positive for coronavirus, is out of self-isolation after seven days and is in good health, his spokesman said on Monday.

Last week, his Clarence House office revealed that Charles, 71, had been tested after displaying mild symptoms of the virus and had been in self-isolation at his Birkhall home in Scotland where he had continued to work.

After consultation with his doctor, he is now out of self-isolation, Clarence House said. He will resume meetings and take exercise in accordance with government and medical guidelines. However, his wife Camilla, who tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in self-isolation until the end of the week in case she too develops symptoms.

Buckingham Palace has previously said Queen Elizabeth, who left London for Windsor Castle on March 19 along with her 98-year-old husband, Philip, is in good health.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak at the heart of the UK government spread on Monday with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, self-isolating with symptoms just days after the British leader himself tested positive. A Downing Street spokesman said Cummings, one of the most powerful men in the government, had developed symptoms of COVID-19 over the weekend and was staying at home. The spokesman said Johnson was working from his finance minister’s office in Number 11 Downing Street.

Cummings was seen sprinting out of Downing Street shortly after Johnson revealed he had tested positive. Downing Street did not respond to a request for comment on the adviser’s rapid departure.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was self-isolating on Monday after a parliamentary aide tested positive for coronavirus, though an initial investigation determined the 70-year-old was unlikely to have been infected, officials said.

Netanyahu was scheduled to undergo a coronavirus test by Tuesday, the officials said. A previous test, on March 15, found the premier to be negative.

Israel’s Health Ministry regulations generally require 14-day self-isolation for anyone deemed to have been in proximity with a carrier, with the duration reduced for the number of days that have passed since the suspected exposure.

Israeli media said the infected aide had been present at a parliament session last week attended by Netanyahu as well as opposition lawmakers with whom he is trying to build an emergency coalition government to help address the coronavirus crisis. In a subsequent statement, the official said Netanyahu had “decided that he and his personal staff will be in isolation until the epidemiological investigation is completed”. Israel has reported 4,347 cases and 15 fatalities.

Spain imposed a near-total nationwide lockdown on March 14 to try to curb the spread of the virus, banning people from leaving their homes except to go to work if remote work is not possible, buy food, get medical care or briefly walk their dog.

Donald Trump has extended America’s national shutdown for a month, bowing to public health experts, and scientific reality, and warning that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to come.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, the US president claimed that, if his administration keeps the death toll to 100,000, it will have done “a very good job” – a startling shift from his optimistic predictions of a few days ago when he said he hoped to restart the economy by Easter.

Trump also undermined his plea for unity by uttering falsehoods, verbally abusing reporters and making incendiary allegations that implied health care workers were stealing masks, without providing evidence.

The extended deadline marked a humiliating retreat for the president who, having squandered six precious weeks at the start of the pandemic, more recently complained that the cure is worse than the problem and floated Easter Sunday as a “beautiful timeline” for reopening big swathes of the country.

The initial 15-day period of social distancing urged by the federal government expires Monday, and Trump had expressed interest in relaxing the national guidelines at least in parts of the country less afflicted by the pandemic. He instead decided to extend them through April 30, a tacit acknowledgment he’d been too optimistic. Many states and local governments have stiffer controls in place on mobility and gatherings.

Trump told “Fox and Friends” in an interview Monday morning that “nobody” was “more worried” about the economic impact on the country than him, but said, “We want to do something where we have the least death.”

Trump, who has largely avoided talk of potential death and infection rates, cited projection models that said potentially 2.2 million people or more could have died had social distancing measures not been put in place. And he said the country would be doing well if it “can hold” the number of deaths “down to 100,000.” He said the best case for the country would be for the death rate to peak in about two weeks. “It’s a horrible number,” Trump said, but added, “We all together have done a very good job.”

“It would not have been a good idea to pull back at a time when you really need to be pressing your foot on the pedal as opposed to on the brakes,” Fauci said on CNN on Monday, describing how he and others had convinced Trump to extend the restrictions. “His first goal is to prevent suffering and death,” Fauci added. Americans are now being called on to prepare for another 30 days of severe economic and social disruption, as schools and businesses are closed and public life is upended. One in 3 Americans remain under state or local government orders to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.

“The president is right. The cure can’t be worse than the disease, and we’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs,” Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow had said last Monday, reflecting the thinking of his economic team.