Coronavirus crisis: The world is going into lockdown

BY Joseph Rachman   /  17 March 2020

More countries are adopting strict quarantine measures in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus. Today European Union leaders agreed to impose a 30-day ban on foreign travellers entering the Schengen free movement area, bar a few exceptional cases. Switzerland, Denmark, and Greece have all announced measures to ban private and public gatherings, close non-essential businesses, and encourage social distancing.

Other countries are also getting ready. Saudi Arabia has moved to ban Muslims from attending mosques to conduct their prayers – bar at the two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina. Jordan seems to be getting ready to take similar measures passing a law that gives the government sweeping emergency powers. Israel has authorised its security agencies to track suspected coronavirus cases using their phones in order to quarantine them.

Despite this the seriousness of the situation apparently has yet to hit home in some parts of the world. The Argentinian government’s attempt to limit the spread of the virus by mandating a universal two week leave of absence from work was greeted by thousands of Argentinians as an opportunity to rush to the beach.

Meanwhile, Italy and France, which entered lockdown yesterday, have both seen their number of deaths from coronavirus spike over the past 24 hours. The French authorities reported 27 deaths, taking the total to 175, an increase of about 18%. In Italy the death toll now stands at 2,503 increasing by 345 (16%). However, South Korea appears to have been more successful in its containment efforts with its number of new reported cases dropping sharply.

Countries are also moving fast to cushion the economic blow. In Spain, which has now been under lockdown since Sunday, the government announced that it would be copying Italy’s measures to help its population cope with the crisis. These include suspending mortgage payments and prohibiting the cutting off of basic utilities during the crisis.

The debate in the US on how best to deal with the crisis is also moving apace. The Trump-Pelosi deal to increase sick pay provision and provide extra funding for welfare programmes has been quickly outdone by a number of proposals by Democrats and Republicans alike which propose direct transfers of cash to American citizens.

The spread of lockdowns at local and state levels in the US is also beginning to have a political impact. While the Democratic primaries went ahead today in Arizona, Illinois, and Florida they were cancelled in Ohio.

In Iran the government has temporarily released 85,000 prisoners – half of them political prisoners – due to the strains caused by coronavirus. Among those released is the British national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who has been held in prison since 2016. Unlike other prisoners she is required to wear a movement tracking ankle tag and cannot go further than 300 metres from the house of her Iranian parents.

Finally, some good news. Human testing of a coronavirus vaccine started in the US yesterday. Four patients were administered the vaccine developed by Modern Therapeutics in Seattle, Washington. Unfortunately, experts say it will take months to know if this vaccine – or any others which may be tested – will be effective.


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