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Saturday, Oct 16, 2021

Coronavirus latest: Europe shuts borders while Trump promises ‘big, bold’ plan for US

Non-EU citizens barred from travel into continent for 30 days. Proposed White House stimulus package includes cash for workers, relief for airlines

This is a rolling news story featuring notable coronavirus stories of the day. It will continue to be updated as the day wears on.
European Union leaders agreed to restrict most travel into the continent in an unprecedented move aimed at slowing down the spread of a deadly coronavirus and mitigating its effects on the bloc.

The restrictions will apply to all non-EU citizens and last for an initial 30 days, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after a video conference with her fellow leaders.

Merkel said that the group expressed a “great readiness” to do whatever is necessary to contain the outbreak and was braced for a “very serious” economic impact.

Banning all travel to foreign nationals adds to a series of restrictive measures that would have been unthinkable in western democracies only a few weeks ago. Several EU member states have imposed curfews and lockdowns, shutting shops, bars, schools, and restaurants in a last-ditch effort to stop the disease from overwhelming the continent’s health care systems.

While the moves are deemed essential by many epidemiologists, they are bound to deal a severe blow to the European and global economies. EU governments officially acknowledge the bloc is heading to a recession this year – the first since the sovereign debt crisis.

The sealing of Europe’s external border is aimed at lifting an ever-growing number of internal border closings, which have disrupted free movement within the bloc – one of the key pillars of European integration.

It is unclear, however, whether the internal border checks will be phased out following the latest decision, given the fear of many governments about virus transmissions from visitors, European or otherwise.

Here are other developments:

US death toll over 100, with cases in every state

The death toll in the US from the new coronavirus passed the 100 mark on Tuesday after Washington state reported six new fatalities, bringing the country’s total to 103, with cases in every state.

Washington leads the nation in deaths, with 54. Thirty of those deaths were connected with a nursing home in a Seattle suburb.

New York on Tuesday reported more confirmed cases than Washington state for the first time. New York has topped 1,300 cases, while Washington was just over 1,000.

Trump seeks US$1 trillion stimulus package

The Trump administration is proposing US$1 trillion in economic stimulus to contain the effects of the coronavirus, including relief for small businesses and the airline industry, and sizeable cheques for American workers.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to outline the request to Senate Republicans at a closed-door lunch on Capitol Hill and will be discussing the plan with House Democrats as well.

The plan is also expected to include payments to small businesses and loan guarantees to industries such as airlines and hotels, Mnuchin said in a news conference at the White House.

“This is worse than 9/11” for the airline industry, Mnuchin said, saying the sector is “almost ground to a halt”.

“Tremendous things are happening,” President Donald Trump said of the conversations between Mnuchin and lawmakers. “We had a very good talk and I think we’re right down the same track.”

“It’s going to be big and it’s going to be bold,” Trump said of the plan.

Mnuchin said the details of the plan – including how much Americans will receive – could be finalised by the end of the day. He then left the news conference to meet lawmakers.

US stocks rose on Tuesday, a day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged nearly 3,000 points for its largest point drop in history.

The blue-chip index gained 1,048.86 points, or 5.2 per cent, while the S&P 500 stock index was up 6 per cent and the Nasdaq jumped 6.2 per cent, recovering from the Dow’s worst percentage drop since “Black Monday” in 1987.

The markets fluctuated drastically, opening up nearly 2 per cent for all the indices, only to quickly lose momentum 10 minutes into the session.

They then flip-flopped between positive and negative territory in the morning session and staged a steady upward momentum as Trump and the White House Task Force began the briefing on the government’s latest efforts to contain the virus and stabilise the economy.

Australia orders citizens not to travel abroad

Australia told its citizens on Wednesday to halt all overseas travel in an unprecedented move designed to choke off the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced what he called an “indefinite ban” on foreign travel at a press conference, saying: “If we slow the spread, we do save lives.”

“Do not go overseas. That is very clear, that instruction,” he said.

UK braces for 55,000 cases, no more than 20,000 deaths

Britain’s government’s chief scientific adviser on Tuesday said it was “reasonable” to estimate that 55,000 people could have Covid-19, based on the expected death rate of one in 1,000 cases.

Asked at a parliamentary health committee if there were “potentially 55,000 cases” based on that ratio, Patrick Vallance said that was “a reasonable ballpark way of looking at it”. But he added the modelling was “not more accurate than that”.

Britain hopes the measures it has taken to tackle coronavirus mean it will have below 20,000 deaths from the outbreak, Vallance said.

The government promised an additional £330 billion (US$399 billion) on Tuesday to help businesses survive the severe economic impact of the pandemic.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said the government will provide a package of “unprecedented support” including grants, loan guarantees and help with local business taxes. The extra funds generated for businesses is equivalent to around 15 per cent of Britain's GDP, he added.

Queen Elizabeth to leave London

Queen Elizabeth has cancelled garden parties at London’s Buckingham Palace and will leave the palace on Thursday for Windsor Castle as a “sensible precaution” amid Britain's coronavirus outbreak, the royal family said on Tuesday.

Several meetings at Buckingham Palace this week, including the queen's audience with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, will go ahead as planned, it said.

“Her Majesty will move to Windsor Castle for the Easter period on Thursday March 19, one week earlier than planned,” the palace said. “It is likely the queen will stay there beyond the Easter period.”

Other events expected to be attended by large numbers of people in the coming months will be cancelled or postponed, including five garden parties scheduled from May at Buckingham Palace.

Post-Brexit trade talks confirmed cancelled

The British government confirmed on Tuesday it would not be resuming post-Brexit trade talks with the EU as planned on Wednesday because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Officials had been discussing plans for video conferences after this week’s face-to-face talks in London were cancelled.

But a government statement said: “We will not formally be convening negotiating work strands tomorrow in the way we did in the previous round.”

No ‘drastic decisions’ on Tokyo 2020

The International Olympic Committee does not plan any “drastic” decisions about the Tokyo 2020 Games, saying on Tuesday it remains fully committed to the event being staged in four months’ time despite the global spread of the coronavirus.

Following discussions with international sports federations the IOC said changes would need to be made to the qualifiers due to the impact of the virus, but it still plans to go ahead with the July 24-Aug 9 Olympics.

“The IOC remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage,” it said in a statement.

Putin says Russia has virus ‘under control’

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said the situation with the spreading coronavirus is “under control” in Russia after infections were “contained”.

“We were able to contain mass penetration and spread” of the pandemic, the Russian president told a government meeting. “The situation is generally under control despite the high risk level,” he added.

Russia on Tuesday reported a total of 114 cases of coronavirus, up from 93 on Monday, with no fatalities.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who is responsible for health, dismissed concerns that authorities may struggle if thousands of Russians require respiratory support.

Russia is “ready to use over 40,000 respiratory support systems,” she said at the meeting, adding that 106 of the cases in Russia are not severe.

Ukrainian robbers steal 100,000 masks

Ukrainian shops, restaurants and transport shut down on Tuesday as the country tightened restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus, while police arrested five people suspected of trying to rob 100,000 surgical masks at gunpoint in Kiev.

The country has seven confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far, including one death. The government has encouraged people to stay at home wherever possible except to buy food and medicine, but has stopped short of introducing curfews.

Following a series of emergency steps introduced by President Volodymyr Zelensky, parliament in a special session on Tuesday approved measures including fines and prison sentences for people who broke mandatory quarantine.

The economic fallout from the epidemic also continued to bite as the hryvnia currency slipped to 27 to the dollar for the first time since June 2019.

Brazil reports first death

Brazil on Tuesday reported its first confirmed death from the coronavirus outbreak, as Congress cancelled a joint session due to a lack of quorum and the country braced for the mounting epidemic.

If lawmakers fail to turn up due to concerns about spreading the disease, the government’s agenda of privatisations, tax reforms and public payroll cuts could quickly grind to a halt.

President Jair Bolsonaro underwent his second coronavirus test on Tuesday, after it emerged in recent days that he had contact with a number of people now known to have contracted the virus. The test results may be released later on Tuesday, the president’s office said.

Bolsonaro was first tested last Thursday after his communications secretary Fabio Wajngarten, who was part of the presidential party that visited Florida and met Trump last week, tested positive for Covid-19.

Bolsonaro said via social media on Friday he had tested negative.

Cruise ship stranded off South Africa coast

More than 1,700 people are stranded on a cruise and a cargo ship off the coast of South Africa’s Cape Town over fears that some of them are infected with coronavirus, the ports authority said Tuesday.

Transnet, South Africa’s maritime authority, said it “held off port limits” two ships after a crew member on board one of the vessels “began to exhibit symptoms of Covid-19”. The crew member had been on a flight from Istanbul, Turkey on March 9, with six other people who went onto board cruise liner AIDAmira that sailed to neighbouring Namibia.

“This is the first suspected case of COVID-19 in a South African seaport,” said Transnet.

The six passengers are currently asymptomatic and none of the passengers or crew members on the cruise ship have shown any symptoms.

Bosnia declares state of disaster

Bosnia declared a nationwide state of disaster over the coronavirus on Tuesday, allowing the army to set up quarantine camps as health authorities fear a possible “explosion” of new cases.

The country has detected around 30 infections in its population of around 3.5 million so far.

Soldiers will be deployed to set up camps near border crossings and airports to isolate everyone who enters the country for two weeks. Authorities have already closed Bosnia’s borders to foreigners coming from hard-hit zones like Italy, Spain, France and Belgium.

All Bosnians entering the country are required to self-isolate.


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