Europe to shut its borders
The European Union will close its borders to all non-essential travel "for an initial period of 30 days" as it attempts to contain the ongoing spread of the coronavirus on the continent.
The temporary restrictions could be prolonged beyond the 30 days, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced yesterday. She appeared confident that the European Council will sign off on the restriction in a vote today.
Family members of European nationals, essential staff such as doctors and nurses, and people transporting goods to the EU will be exempted from the upcoming measures.
"The less travel, the more we can contain the virus," von der Leyen said during a press conference, which followed a video conference between G7 leaders.
The announcement comes as Spain went under partial lockdown in an attempt to stem the worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe after Italy, whose Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned yesterday that his country was entering "the riskiest weeks" and urged a coordinated European response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"European coordination on health and economic measures is needed," Conte told the Corriere della Sera newspaper ahead of a planned videoconference between Group of Seven (G7) leaders.
"It is time for courageous choices and Italy can offer a significant contribution as the country that was the first in Europe to have experienced such a wide spread of the virus," he said.
Italy was the first EU member state to shutter schools and almost all businesses to try to slow a global pandemic that has killed 1,809 people in the Mediterranean country since last month.
It has recorded more than half the deaths officially reported outside China.
"Scientists tell us that we have not yet reached the peak. These are the riskiest weeks and we need the utmost precaution," said Conte.
Italy is facing two simultaneous threats to its healthcare system. World-class hospitals in the richer north where the overwhelming majority of the deaths and infections have been reported are running out of beds and relying on overstretched staff.
But Conte fears that medical centres in the poorer south, which has largely avoided contagion, will be unable to cope should it be hit just as hard.
"We can no longer afford behavioural errors," said Conte. "Things like people leaving Milan on weekends to spend time with their family or at their residences in the south must absolutely stop."
The virus "is our most important challenge of the past decades," Conte said.
The number of cases globally stood at 168,250 with 6,501 deaths, across 142 countries and territories yesterday, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.
Turkey yesterday suspended collective mosque prayers, including the important Friday prayer, until further notice to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
Meanwhile, India last night shut down all educational institutions, gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres till March 31 to contain the spread of coronavirus, our New Delhi correspondent reports.
Students have been advised to stay at home and online education be promoted. India also banned the entry of passengers from member-countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and the United Kingdom with effect from March 18 till March 31.
1,000 NEW CASES IN SPAIN
Spain has registered nearly 1,000 new Covid-19 infections over the past 24 hours, raising the total number of cases to 8,744, the health ministry said yesterday.
Over the same period, the number of deaths rose by nine to 297, the ministry's emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon said.
The figure for new cases was lower than weekend numbers, when 2,000 infections were detected between Saturday and Sunday and the number of deaths rose by around 100.
Of the total number, Madrid remains the worst-affected region, with 4,665 cases.
In order to rein in the virus, Spain has declared a state of alert, shutting all but essential services and ordering its population of 46 million people to stay at home. People are only authorised to go out to buy food or medicine, to go to work or to get medical treatment.
European Union leaders will take part in a crisis videoconference today to coordinate actions to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Germany yesterday introduced border controls with Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland in a bid to stem the coronavirus outbreak.
Only those with a valid reason for travel, like cross-border commuters and delivery drivers, are allowed through, officials said.
COVID-19 VACCINE TRIAL
A clinical trial to test a coronavirus vaccine on human subjects will begin next week, according to a US official.
The first participant was set to receive the experimental vaccine yesterday in order to test for any potential side effects — but they will not be infected with the virus itself.
The trial is being funded by the National Institutes of Health and will take place in Seattle, the official told the Associated Press. It will begin with 45 healthy volunteers at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.
But even if the tests go well, experts say it could take more than a year to develop and fully test a vaccine.
A number of pharmaceutical companies around the world are currently working on a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has infected more than 150,000 people and killed nearly 6,000.
One team at the University of Queensland in Australia announced last month that they had developed a potential vaccine and have begun testing on animals.
Professor Paul Young, head of the university's school of chemistry and molecular biosciences, said the team of 20 had been working "around the clock" to speed up the process, identifying and replicating a key protein in the virus – which forms basis of their vaccine candidate – within just three weeks.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals also aims to begin safety tests of its vaccine candidate next month in a few dozen volunteers at the University of Pennsylvania and a testing centre in Kansas City, Missouri, followed by a similar study in China and South Korea.