Nations employ drastic tactics against coronavirus
MADRID, Spain — Tens of millions of students stayed home on three continents, security forces went on standby to guard against large gatherings of people, and bars, restaurants and offices closed Friday to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The virus edged ever closer to the world's power centers, with positive tests for the Canadian prime minister's wife, a top aide to Iran's supreme leader, a Brazilian official who met with President Donald Trump, and an Australian Cabinet minister who met with U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Trump's daughter, Ivanka.
Channeling wartime rhetoric and tactics in the face of a microscopic enemy, leaders appealed for solidarity to battle a threat that appeared to expand exponentially. They vowed to protect not just the sick, but those sacrificing their livelihoods and education for the greater good.
With promises of financial support from the European Commission, France and Germany, stocks surged on Wall Street and in Europe a day after the market's worst session in over three decades.
With new infections rising sharply in Spain, the government put 60,000 people in four towns on a mandatory lockdown Friday — the nation's first and Europe's second after drastic nationwide measures in Italy. In Madrid, which is struggling with nearly 2,000 infections, many in nursing homes, the government was pooling intensive care units and considering offers by hotel chains to transform rooms into sick wards.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a two-week state of emergency beginning Saturday and pledged to "mobilize all resources," including military, to contain the country's sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
“It's an emergency that affects the life and health of all. The government is going to protect all citizens," Sánchez said.
In China, where new infections have tailed off, authorities mobilized to prevent a boomerang effect, quarantining new arrivals for 14 days. But the intensifying spread of COVID-19 beyond Asia dashed any hopes for containing the virus, despite drastic curbs on travel and social events.
In Europe and the United States, leaders and medical experts tried to predict the future — or at least the next few weeks — by scrutinizing the virus' trajectory so far, especially in China and Italy, the epicenters of Asia and Europe. Congress and the Trump administration closed in on a sweeping aid package with sick pay, free testing and other resources to help reassure anxious Americans.
The Italian town of Codogno, which had all but shut down hours after recording Italy's first locally spread coronavirus infection, showed that changing habits does make a difference. New infections have slowed drastically there compared to the rest of Italy, where draconian measures came far later.
“More than a sigh of relief, there was some concern over the risk that all of the sacrifices were in vain,” said Mayor Francesco Passerini, who like most in the town wears a mask.
The goal of all authorities is to slow the spread of the virus to avoid overwhelming hospitals with those sickened by an illness that no one in the world has immunity to. Worldwide, 137,000 people have been infected and more than 5,000 have died but half of those who had the virus have already recovered. Most patients have only mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever or cold, but severe symptoms including pneumonia can occur, especially in the elderly and people with existing health problems.