France closes non-essential public places to curb coronavirus

March 14 (UPI) — French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe ordered Saturday the closure of non-essential public locations, in a move similar to Italy, to curb the accelerating spread of the coronavirus in the country.

The order applies to restaurants, cafes, cinemas, nightclubs and other businesses considered nonessential.

Philippe said the shutdown applies until further notice and also called for people in France to reduce travel, especially between towns.

Essential businesses such as grocery stores, chemists, banks, tobacco shops and petrol stations will remain open, he said.

Local elections will also go on Sunday as planned, he added.

Though religious building will remain open, Philippe said gatherings and ceremonies should be postponed.

France reported a sharp rise in cases Saturday from 3,661 to nearly 4,500 with 91 deaths, according to a global tracker compiled by John Hopkins University.

“The best way to slow down the epidemic,” Philipe said, was “social distancing.”

The Louvre in Paris, the world’s most visited museum, has been closed as of Friday “until further notice” due to the coronavirus, RFI reported. France’s most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower, also closed down Friday night “for an indefinite period of time,” according to its website.

Spain, with 6,315 cases and 191 deaths, is the hardest-hit country in Europe after Italy, where Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced measures late Wednesday ordering bars, restaurants and all shops selling non-essential items closed.

Authorities recorded 1,800 more cases in Spain since Friday evening, many in the capital Madrid.

The Spanish government is poised to declare a 15-day national lockdown where people would only be allowed out of their home for emergencies, to buy food, or for work.

Madrid and its surrounding areas have already ordered the closure of most bars, restaurants and shops.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared a state of emergency Thursday and in several Spanish provinces and cities large gatherings have been canceled and beaches closed to the public.

Outside of China, Italy has the second highest outbreak, with 21,157 cases and 1,441 deaths, followed by Iran, which has 12,729 cases and 611 deaths.

As part of lockdown measures to contain the spread, the Italian Civil Aviation Authority, known as Enac, said Saturday it has also suspended all civilian flight operations at a number of the country’s major airports.

The suspension of flights does not affect those which emergency health services or state authorities operate, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

The World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic with the virus found on every continent except Antarctica earlier this week.

Though the spread in China has slowed, it still has the highest number of cases at 80,976 and 3,193 deaths, including 3,075 deaths in Hubei province alone.

As of Saturday, the number of cases worldwide, has risen to more than 155,000 worldwide and over 5,800 deaths, the global tracker shows.

Earlier Saturday, Guatemala became the first country to ban Americans in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus as nations across the globe close down borders and implement up travel restrictions and curfews.

President Alejandro Giammattei announced Friday night that Americans would not be allowed into the country beginning Monday.

“We have made the decision that citizens of the United States and Canada cannot enter the country,” Giammattei said in a news conference, referring to the rising number of cases in those countries.

The move, which he called a “phase of containment,” also includes banning nationals from several European and Asian countries.

Giammattei also asked Mexico to halt Guatemalan deportations by land.

More than 250,000 Guatemalans were detained at the U.S. border last year, more than any other country.

Guatamala announced its first confirmed case of the virus Friday.

Saudi Arabia, which has 103 confirmed cases, but no deaths, has suspended all international flights for two weeks starting Sunday to control the outbreak, the Saudi Press Agency reported Saturday.

Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced as of midnight Saturday, it will close down its land borders with Norway and Poland to stop the spread.

The border closure, which follows Russia’s earlier closure with its Chinese border, only applies to foreigners who attempt to enter “for professional, private, study or tourist reasons,” Mishustin said.

Russia confirmed 59 cases of the COVID-19 Saturday, but no deaths.

In the Philippines, which has reported 111 confirmed cases and eight deaths, government officials have imposed a month-long curfew in the capital region of Metro Manila, which will run from 8 pm. to 5 a.m. Government officials also announced that “nonessential” gatherings like visiting friends and family and parties are banned.

In parts of Australia, stocks of coronavirus test kits have run out and supplies are running low, Dr. Brendan Murphy, the government’s chief medical officer, warned. He urged medical staff to only refer patients for pathology tests if they meet two criteria. First, they have to have traveled internationally in the 14 days before illness onset, or been in close or casual contact with a confirmed case in the 14 days before onset. Second, they must have symptoms of fever or acute respiratory infection with or without fever.

Australia had 250 cases and three deaths confirmed Saturday.

In Syria, parliamentary elections scheduled for April 13 have been postponed to May 20, SANA reported.

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