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EU slates US for ban on travel

By JONATHAN POWELL | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-03-13 08:56
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Passengers with luggage walk at Rome's Fiumicino airport on Thursday, the third day of an unprecedented lockdown across all of Italy imposed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. [YARA NARDI/REUTERS]

Stock markets suffer heavy blow amid heightened fight against virus

The European Union on Thursday condemned the decision by United States President Donald Trump to ban travel from Europe's Schengen area to the US over the novel coronavirus.

"The European Union disapproves of the fact that the US decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation," EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a joint statement.

"The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," the two said. Michel added: "Economic disruption must be avoided."

They rejected Trump's suggestion that Europe is not doing enough to combat the virus, saying that the 27-nation bloc "is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus".

The restrictions announced by Trump do not apply to the United Kingdom, where the number of confirmed cases has reached 460, or Ireland, which is not part of Schengen.

Ireland was on Thursday among a number of countries across Europe to close schools, and it placed restrictions on indoor gatherings of 100 and outdoor gatherings involving 500 or more that require assistance of police and ambulance services.

Ireland's leader Leo Varadkar said schools, colleges and childcare facilities are going to stay shut until March 29, and that social interaction in the country should be reduced "as much as possible" and employees should work from home if possible.

Denmark shut all schools and universities for two weeks, taking the decision after a sharp rise in cases, with 514 now confirmed.

Schools have been closed in other European locations that have seen the most outbreaks, such as Madrid in Spain and two regions in France-Brittany and the Oise region, north of Paris. Reports also suggest most schools in Ukraine will be shut.

In the UK and Germany, a relatively small number of schools have been closed temporarily to allow for deep cleaning after staff or pupils tested positive or returned from high-risk areas.

Trump's travel ban has prompted another plunge in the financial markets. Wild trading in London drove the FTSE 100 down by more than 10 percent. Every single company on the blue-chip index, and on the smaller FTSE 250 index, is down.

News sites in France reacted with alarm to the prospect of the US putting Europe into quarantine.

Le Monde said the decision will worsen the economic situation for airlines and cause a drop in the stock markets showing that the West "is incapable of a responding as one to the coronavirus pandemic".

There is widespread astonishment at the decision to exclude the UK from the travel ban. On French social media it is being pointed out that Brexit does not stop the virus.

Spain has now confirmed almost 3,000 cases of the virus, making it the second most affected country in Europe and the fifth in the world after China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. So far, 84 people have died in Spain from the virus.

All soccer matches in Spain's top division, La Liga, have been suspended for two weeks over fears of the spread of the coronavirus, the league's organizing body said in a statement on Thursday.

The league's statement said the decision came after Real Madrid put its squad into quarantine, and that it had notified the clubs, the Spanish soccer federation and the National Sports Ministry of the postponements.

Every member of the Spanish Cabinet is being tested for the coronavirus after the country's equality minister, Irene Montero, became the latest politician to test positive for the virus.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a news conference on Thursday that anyone with a new persistent cough or high temperature is now advised to self-isolate for seven days, as the UK government moves to the "delay" phase of its plan to tackle coronavirus.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast the day after he announced a 12 billion pound ($15.1 billion) response to the coronavirus outbreak in the budget, the UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said: "This has obviously now impacted Parliament and government, and we are dealing with it, like all other businesses are going to have to start dealing with it.

Sunak said the government would take the "right steps at the right time" but played down the prospect of a US-style travel ban. "We haven't believed that that's the right thing to do, the evidence here doesn't support that."

The UK government is funding a new international push to challenge dangerous fake news about coronavirus, which is engaging social media influencers to help combat misinformation.

The 500,000-pound ($630,000) fund from the Department for International Development will challenge misinformation in South East Asia and Africa, which it says is then spreading worldwide, and direct people to the right advice to help stop the spread of the virus.

Greece reported its first fatality from a coronavirus infection on Thursday, a 66-year-old man who had returned from a religious pilgrimage to Israel and Egypt at the end of February.

At the ancient Olympia site in Greece, the flame lighting ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 games was scaled back to the point that only 100 accredited guests attended. The number of coronavirus cases in Greece has jumped to 99.

The Italian government, which on Monday outlawed most domestic travel, ordered the closure of bars, restaurants and all shops except those selling basic necessities after the country's death toll rose past 1,000, with more than 15,000 infections.

Iran has asked for a $5 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund in a bid to fight the growing threat of coronavirus in its country. Iran's health ministry said the virus had killed 75 more people, raising the death toll to 429 with more than 10,000 confirmed cases.

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