More cases crop up worldwide, Saudi Arabia cancels Haj, Japan shuts schools, border checks tightened
A man looks out of a window at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel in La Caleta, on the Canary Island of Tenerife, Spain, Wednesday, February 26, 2020. Spanish officials say the tourist hotel has been placed in quarantine after an Italian doctor staying there tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and Spanish news media says some 1,000 tourists staying at the complex are not allowed to leave. (AP)
One by one, more and more countries are reporting cases of the new coronavirus. Governments and doctors on the front lines are scrambling for solutions and everyday life around the globe is being disrupted in a manner that’s not been seen in recent times.
The spread of the virus is having an impact around the world. Here’s a summary of some of the latest developments:
Looking for connections
From California to Italy, France, Germany, Spain and beyond, more cases are popping up in which the source of the virus remains a mystery. People who weren’t exposed through travel or contact with someone previously infected are testing positive. Health authorities in all these places are working hard to find the original source of infection using what’s called contact tracing, or finding all the people the latest patients were in contact with. In a highly mobile world, that’s increasingly difficult.
Markets dive deeper
U.S. President Donald Trump had reason to worry as stocks tanked further on fears about the virus’ global spread. And not only Trump: all gains built up this year have been wiped out — and more. No region is immune. On Wall Street Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 each fell 4.4%. Britain’s FTSE 100 index slid 3.5% and Japan’s Nikkei ended 2% lower. It’s not looking much better on Wall Street, where both the Dow Jones industrial average and the broader S&P 500 index are down. A global pandemic that leads to barriers and restrictions has the potential to seriously disrupt the global economy by draining confidence and stalling activity. A more protracted panic on stock markets could perpetuate the downturn _ and that’s bad news in an election year.
Stay away, foreign pilgrims
Saudi Arabia has responded to the fears by banning foreign pilgrims from visiting Islam’s holiest shrines. That will change the face of this year’s annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and disrupt plans for millions of faithful from around the world who come to the kingdom to pray together. The decision illustrates how tense the situation is across the Gulf region and the wider Middle East as a whole largely as a result of the spike in deaths and infections in Iran. Iran has now seen more virus deaths than anywhere except China, where it first emerged at the end of 2019.
Japan skips school
Japan, too, is increasingly worried, and made a decision Thursday that’s sure to have its 12.8 million schoolchildren secretly celebrating. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he wants all elementary, middle and high schools nationwide to remain closed until spring holidays in late March. Japan now has more than 900 cases, including hundreds from a quarantined cruise ship. France, Germany, Monaco and other countries near Italy are telling parents to keep their kids home from school if they’ve been anywhere near the growing number of zones worldwide hit by virus outbreaks. One reason for the school warnings: growing concern about the rise in the number of untraceable cases of the virus.
Testing raises tough questions
U.S. health officials are confronting tough questions about testing to intercept the virus. The questions are not just about who, when and how to test for the illness, but how to make sure working test kits get out to the labs that need them. All those issues apparently came in to play in the treatment of the woman in California, a case officials say may be the first community-spread instance of the disease in the United States. After the case was reported, officials expanded their criteria for who should get tested, and took steps to increase testing.
Mormons postpone, adjust events
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says a major conference for church members is still on for April, but it’s discouraging people overseas from traveling to the event in Utah. More than half of the faith’s 16 million members live outside the United States and the conference attracts nearly 100,000 people. The faith is also postponing a key meeting of its top global leaders that was supposed to take place before the conference. The leadership meeting, where the faith’s policies are discussed behind closed doors, has been rescheduled for October.
Beefing up borders
Germany is thinking ahead. To retroactively track down everyone who may have been exposed to an infected individual, the German government is introducing airport landing cards for passengers arriving from the countries hit hardest by the virus. The procedure started with China but has been expanded to include South Korea, Iran, Japan and Italy. Elsewhere, authorities are struggling to keep the virus away. Pakistan halted flights to and from neighboring Iran. Slovakia is checking cars coming from Austria and everyone on flights into its three airports. Cyprus has a special problem: the Mediterranean island nation is ethnically divided, with an internationally recognized state in the south and a self-declared Turkish Cypriot state in the north. Authorities in the south are deploying police and health officials at the dividing line.
China’s growing confidence
Now that there are more cases being reported outside China than inside, Chinese authorities are eager to shed the virus stigma and questions about its early handling of the epidemic. President Xi Jinping said Thursday: “We have the confidence, the ability and the certainty to win this war against the epidemic.” And famed Chinese respiratory disease specialist Zhong Nanshan predicted China’s outbreak should be “basically under control” by the end of April. He credited strong measures taken by the government and the work of medical workers for helping curb the spread.