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Life During Coronavirus: What Different Countries Are Doing To Stop The Spread

Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving from the main train station in Milan, Italy. The government declared on Monday that the whole country is a "red zone."
Antonio Calanni AP
Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving from the main train station in Milan, Italy. The government declared on Monday that the whole country is a "red zone."

Countries around the world are mobilizing to try to halt the coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 100,000 people and killed more than 4,000 others. Here's a look at some of the measures that the nine countries with the most cases have implemented so far.


China has had more than 80,000 cases and more than 3,100 deaths since the coronavirus emerged in the city of Wuhan in December. People in Wuhan and elsewhere in Hubei province have been largely confined to their homes for almost 50 days — a policy that is controlling the movements of tens of millions of people.


One Wuhan resident recently wrote that life in the city since Jan. 23 has "become a living hell."

The author, who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisals for speaking critically of the Chinese government, described an atmosphere of chaos and desperation: "Perhaps it is true that only China can build a hospital in 10 days, only China can mobilize so many people to devote themselves to the anti-epidemic agenda, only China can lock down a city with millions of people at lightning speed."

The lockdown began in Wuhan on Jan. 23. It happened suddenly, just before the Lunar New Year holiday, giving residents scant time to make preparations.

Within weeks, policies became stricter. As NPR's Emily Feng reported: The provincial government in Hubei began enforcing round-the-clock "closed management" of all residential complexes, banning the private use of cars, forbidding residents from leaving their apartments without permission and requiring purchasers of cold medicine to disclose their temperature, address and identification number at the pharmacy. Many community officials began buying and delivering groceries and medication for residents in their jurisdiction.

"Citizens are also financially rewarded for reporting those who fail to follow quarantine orders," Feng noted. "These methods reflect a decades-long history of social control now being mobilized on an unprecedented scale."


Many residents in Wuhan have become reliant on delivery workers on scooters and motorcycles to deliver food or other necessities. Hospitals also rely on those couriers to deliver medical supplies, in which case the drivers wear hazmat suits.

The severe restrictions in Hubei are being credited for a decline in new cases there. But such measures might be difficult to enforce in democratic societies.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the Trump administration's coronavirus task force, told NBC's Meet The Press on Sunday that China's measures kept the outbreak from getting even worse.

"Their efforts have been draconian, something we never would be able to do here," Fauci said. "But even though there's a lot of things that have unintended negative consequences of that ... I think they prevented a broader spread."

Chinese leader Xi Jinping toured Wuhan on Tuesday — the third day that no new cases had been reported outside the epicenter of Hubei. During the visit, Xi said the country's outbreak has been "basically curbed."

Officials haven't said, however, when the restrictions in Hubei will be lifted.


Italy has more than 9,000 cases and 463 deaths related to the virus, mostly in the north. The number of cases there has jumped significantly in recent days.

On Monday, the Italian government announced extraordinary measures to contain the virus that first spread there in late February. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared all of Italy a "red zone" — meaning people should stay home except for work and other emergencies.

Public gatherings have been banned and freedom of movement sharply curtailed. All domestic sporting events in the country have been suspended until April 3 — a big deal in soccer-mad Italy.

"Conte told Italians they must change their habits starting now" and cited the rising number of cases and deaths, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome. "Under the slogan 'I'm staying home,' the prime minister told Italians the health of our citizens is in danger, we have to impose sacrifices. He also said the virus outbreak is straining the health care system."

The primary goal is to keep people from gathering in groups. All museums, cinemas and theaters have been closed until April 3. Schools and universities are closed. Bars and restaurants must close by 6 p.m. each day, and malls and supermarkets are closed on weekends. Moving from one town to another requires signing a police form self-certifying that a person is traveling for work, health or emergency purposes.

Those stringent measures had already been implemented over the weekend in northern Italy, where most of the country's confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 are located.

Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini told NPR on Monday that most Italians seemed to respect the restrictions. "Italy, in a way, is more cohesive than many people think. Italians are behaving responsibly," he said. "This this thing has to be stopped. The only way to stop it is to take drastic measures while we can."

Deputy Economy Minister Laura Castelli said Tuesday that payments on mortgages will be suspended nationally due to the outbreak.


Iran has reported more than 8,000 cases and nearly 300 deaths from COVID-19.

Public gatherings, including Friday prayers in Tehran and other major cities, have been canceled. Schools have been closed and crews of cleaners have been dispatched to disinfect trains, buses and gathering places, as NPR's Peter Kenyon has reported.

On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Zavad Jarif tweeted that "Strict preventive measures — including screening of air travelers at departure gates --are being implemented."

A few days earlier, he had pleaded for supplies for Iran, including masks, ventilators, test kits, and protective wear, blaming U.S. sanctions for endangering Iranians.

Some Iranians told NPR they believe that their government delayed revealing the scope of the outbreak until after parliamentary elections on Feb. 21, to avoid depressing voter turnout.

A number of top Iranian officials have contracted the disease; a 71-year-old senior adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei died last week.

South Korea

South Korea has seen more than 7,500 cases and more than 50 deaths. People in cities across the county have been encouraged to stay home, some offices have closed, and many events are postponed. The nation's schools are closed until March 22.

The country's largest outbreak is in the city of Daegu, which accounts for more than three-quarters of cases.

"It actually looks like a scene from a disaster movie," Dr. Lee Jun-yeup, communications director for the Daegu Medical Association, told NPR's Anthony Kuhn. "Streets are empty. Restaurants and shops are closed. People stock up on instant noodles not because other foods are in short supply, but because they want to avoid going out."

A lack of proper triaging has left Daegu's hospital system clogged with patients with mild symptoms, Kuhn reports. "As of Friday, some 1,800 patients, or almost 40% of Daegu's total, were at home awaiting hospital beds," he says. "Two have already died waiting."

South Korea, where the number of new cases has been on the decline, has been a model of coronavirus testing. The country has 50 drive-through screening clinics where people can get a medical exam and have a sample taken in just 10 minutes. Health workers are processing up to 15,000 tests every day.

The country also is subsidizing small- and medium-sized business owners so they can provide flexible work hours to employees who have children home from school, ABC News reports. Kindergartens and elementary schools are required to operate "emergency child care" for those whose parents are working.


Spain has reported more than 1,600 cases and 35 deaths related to coronavirus.

Authorities in regions with the most cases — Madrid, Basque Country and La Rioja — have ordered the closure of all schools, universities and daycare centers for two weeks. Flights between Spain and Italy have been suspended and large gatherings canceled in the three regions. Soccer matches for Spain's La Liga will be played before empty stadiums for the next two weeks.

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa encouraged companies to reduce working hours and travel and to support remote work.

"I know these are measures that are disliked and that disrupt the normal life of many citizens, but we are adopting the measures because they are necessary," Illa said at a news conference, according to The Associated Press, explaining that the actions were based on "scientific evidence and on the criteria of experts."

Outside the outbreak areas, major events are slated to continue. Las Fallas, a huge festival in Valencia that attracts enormous crowds, is taking place is currently taking place as scheduled.


France has had more than 1,400 cases and at least 30 deaths.

The country announced a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people, with exemptions for things like public transit. The Paris Marathon and a Six Nations rugby match against Ireland have both been postponed until October.

The government has placed additional restrictions on four zones with clusters of coronavirus cases: "Morbihan in Brittany, Haute-Savoie in eastern France near the Swiss border and the départements of Oise and Haut-Rhin in north east France. In these places there is a ban on all public gatherings including markets, community groups and church services," The Local France reports.

President Emmanuel Macron has advised citizens nationwide against visiting older people, to avoid spreading the disease to those most vulnerable.

Schools are closed in the zones Oise and Haut-Rhin. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said last week that France doesn't want to take a blanket approach to closing schools.

"We don't think it's the appropriate strategy in France's case," Blanquer said. "If you're a nurse with children and you have to stay at home to watch your children who aren't in school, well then you're not at the hospital helping those who need it."

France has requisitioned all of the country's surgical masks for distribution to those who need them. The government also has capped the price of hand sanitizer.


Germany has had more than 1,200 confirmed cases and two deaths.

The country's health minister encouraged cancelling events that draw more than 1,000 people. A number of states have done just that. The southern state of Bavaria, for example, has already banned events of more than 1,000 people, and recommended pulling the plug on events with more than 500.

"One thing is clear: all of us have safety first — even before economic interests," Health Minister Jens Spahn wrote in a guest commentary for the Bild newspaper.

"Restricting public life is not an easy decision. The public is part of democracy. It shall remain that way. Therefore we must be careful and prudent."

The city of Berlin has called off performances at all opera houses, state theaters and concert halls.

Germany's soccer top league, the Bundesliga, announced that for the first time ever, a number of its matches will take place with no fans in attendance.

United States

The U.S. has some 700 confirmed cases, and at least 29 people have died. Cases have been found in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

The federal government has not announced significant nationwide measures to contain the spread of the virus, beyond restricting travelers from certain countries from entering the U.S. Restrictions or containment measures have mostly come from state and local authorities.

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a "containment area" with a one-mile radius in New Rochelle, in suburban Westchester County. The National Guard has been deployed to the containment area to deliver food to homes and help with cleaning of public spaces. All schools, churches, community centers within that radius will be closed and large gatherings banned, measures that are set to last for two weeks starting Thursday.

California's Santa Clara County has banned all gatherings of more than 1,000 people, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports. County officials warn that violators could face a shutdown by police, as well as possible fines or arrest. The policy will upend conferences and concerts; the NHL's San Jose Sharks may play behind closed doors.

"These are trying days and the weeks ahead are going to be difficult for everyone in our community," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. "And I'm confident that if we take care of each other and work together, we are collectively stronger than this virus."

Some schools have been closed in areas where cases have been identified or there is concern of exposure. On Tuesday, Georgia's Fulton County Schools — which oversees Atlanta's public schools — became the largest school district so far to close, after an employee tested positive for the virus.

A growing number of colleges and universities across the U.S. have canceled in-person classes.

President Trump said Monday that he will ask Congress to pass a payroll tax cut and relief for hourly wage earners, in order to assist workers who may be squeezed financially by the coronavirus outbreak.

"We are going to take care of and have been taking care of the American public and the American economy," Trump said.


Japan has reported at least 530 cases and nine deaths.

On Monday, Japan put into place tougher border control measures that essentially ban travelers from China and South Korea until the end of the month. Visas for people who haven't yet arrived in Japan are invalidated; people who have already arrived from those countries, whether they are Japanese or foreign nationals, are asked to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

South Korea reacted to the announcement with similar measures for travelers from Japan. Japan has not yet imposed similar restrictions on travelers from Italy.

But the situation in Japan might be worsening. Health authorities are warning local governments to prepare for a surge in cases. The health minister says the epidemic in Japan is entering a new phase, which suggests that the country will need to take tougher measures.

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