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Virus Restrictions Tighten, Disrupting Daily Life, Worship

A man wears a mask as he passes the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, March 9, 2020.
Associated Press
A man wears a mask as he passes the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, March 9, 2020.

New travel restrictions and border closures reverberated Sunday across Europe and beyond as daily life increasingly ground to a halt to try to keep people apart and slow the spread of the coronavirus. Americans returning home faced chaos at airports as overwhelmed border agents tried to screen arriving passengers.

Public worship was curtailed as Muslim authorities announced that the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City would be closed indefinitely, and the Vatican said next month's Holy Week services would not be open to the public.

Spain awoke to the first day of a nationwide quarantine. In the Philippines, soldiers and police sealed off the densely populated capital of Manila from most domestic travelers, snarling traffic to check commuters for fever. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced plans to limit movement nationwide shortly after Tyrol province followed Italy and Spain in barring people from leaving their homes except for essential errands or work.

  • What is coronavirus?
    The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a virus that can infect animals and humans. It causes a range of respiratory illness, fever, cough and in more severe cases can cause pneumonia and even death.
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    The following symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure: fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
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With new infections dwindling in Asia, Europe has become the main front line of the fight against COVID-19. The virus has infected 156,000 people and killed over 5,800, but nearly 74,000 people have already recovered from it.

People should go out “only alone or with the people who live in their apartment," said Kurz, whose country has 800 infections.

Those comments were echoed by one of America's top infectious disease experts.

“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,’’ Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told NBC’s ”Meet the Press.’’

Travelers returning to the U.S. after the Trump administration imposed a wide-ranging ban on people entering from Europe faced hours-long waits for required medical screenings. Videos and photos on social media showed packed arrival halls and winding lines.


The crowds prompted Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to tweet angrily at President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, demanding that they take action to address the crowds.

“This is unacceptable, counterproductive and exactly the opposite of what we need to do to prevent #COVID19," Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth tweeted.

The U.S. has seen 61 deaths and more than 2,900 infections. In hard-hit Washington state, officials said the disease is straining the supply of protective gear available to medical providers despite shipments from the federal government.

Trump himself has tested negative for the virus, his physician said.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he's considering a statewide curfew to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said a lockdown in the nation's largest city couldn't be ruled out. “Every option is on the table in a crisis," the Democrat said on CNN.

Italy, the worst-hit European country with more than 21,000 infections and 1,400 deaths, tightened its nearly week-old lockdown even further. The transport ministry banned passengers from taking ferries to the island of Sardinia and halted overnight train trips, which many in the north had used to reach homes and families in the south. Hospitals were overwhelmed with the sick.

“It’s not a wave. It’s a tsunami,” said Dr. Roberto Rona, in charge of intensive care at the Monza hospital.

Spain joined Italy on lockdown after the government declared a two-week state of emergency.

“From now, we enter into a new phase,” said Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose wife has tested positive. “We won’t hesitate in doing what we need must to beat the virus. We are putting health first.”

In Barcelona, people who ventured out on quiet streets to buy bread at a bakery formed long lines with a meter (about three feet) between each person to reduce the risk of contagion. Police patrolled parks and told people who were not taking their dog on a quick walk to go home. The Las Ramblas promenade, the heart of the city and a tourist magnet, was eerily empty.

The state of emergency “is necessary to unify our efforts so we can all go in the same direction,” Mayor Ada Colau said. “If we show solidarity and think about one another, we can get through this.”

For now, the number of cases is still rising steeply. Spain's Health Ministry said the country has recorded 288 deaths, up from 136 on Saturday. The number of infections rose to 7,753 from 5,700.

Nearby Morocco suspended all international flights. Turkey, meanwhile, set aside quarantine beds for more than 10,000 people returning from pilgrimages to Islam's holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

In China, where the virus was first detected in December, those arriving on overseas flights were routed to a converted exhibition center for initial checks before being shuttled to their homes or other quarantine locations.

China, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Spain have the world's most infections. For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Even as social life largely halted — the German capital of Berlin closed bars, cinemas and other facilities Saturday evening — some attempts at keeping up public life persisted.

France, which has 4,500 infections and 91 deaths, went ahead Sunday with nationwide elections to choose mayors and other local leaders despite a crackdown on gatherings. The government ordered unprecedented sanitary measures at polling stations, where organizers had to keep a 1-meter (three-foot) gap between people and provide soap or hydro-alcoholic gel and disinfectant wipes for voting machines. Voters were told to bring their own pens.

In neighboring Germany, which had reported nearly 3,800 cases and eight deaths nationwide, the state of Bavaria also went ahead with municipal elections. Local officials said more people filed postal ballots than five years earlier, and election workers wore protective gloves.

For the second Sunday in a row, Pope Francis delivered his noon remarks and blessing from inside the Apostolic Library instead of from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. He praised people who might risk contagion to help the poor and homeless.

The Vatican said it would close all Holy Week ceremonies to the public with the start of Palm Sunday on April 5. It said that until April 12, when Easter Sunday is celebrated this year, all the general audiences on Wednesday and Francis' Sunday noon prayer will be streamed by the Vatican.

Among popular Holy Week ceremonies is the Way of the Cross on Good Friday, a torchlight procession at Rome's Colosseum. Holy Week services usually draw tens of thousands of people to Rome but, with Italy at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, tourism has vanished.

Britain, which has taken a different approach and hasn't yet restricted everyday activities, said it plans to set out emergency powers this week, including potentially requiring people over 70 to self-isolate for up to four months and banning mass gatherings.

“We will do the right thing at the right time,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC. “We will publish the bill this week coming."

In the Middle East, Muslim authorities announced that Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, would be closed indefinitely due to concerns about the outbreak, with prayers continuing to be held on the sprawling esplanade outside.

Dalia Samhouri, a regional official with the World Health Organization, said both Iran and Egypt, two of the most populous countries in the Mideast, were likely under-reporting cases because infected people can still show no visible symptoms. Iran says it has nearly 14,000 virus cases and 724 deaths, while Egypt has reported 110 cases, including two fatalities.

“We can easily say that the current figures are an underestimation of the actual figures,” she said.