WASHINGTON/GENEVA: President Donald Trump declared a U.S. national emergency over the quickly spreading coronavirus on Friday, opening the door to more government aid to combat a pathogen that has infected more than 138,000 people worldwide and left over 5,000 dead.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that Europe was now the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, after the number of cases in China, where it originated, slowed to a trickle.
The WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan said social distancing was a “tried and tested method” to slow the spread of a virus but “not a panacea” that would stop transmission.
“Blanket travel measures in their own right will do nothing to protect an individual state,” he said.
GREAT AND GOOD
World leaders, sports stars and actors were among the tens of thousands of people hit by the virus.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would be in isolation for two weeks after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for coronavirus. She said she would “be back on my feet soon”.
Movie star Tom Hanks announced in Australia that he and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, have both tested positive, as have Mikel Arteta, manager of English soccer club Arsenal, and Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Golf’s jewel in the crown, The Masters, and England’s top-flight soccer league joined the long list of elite sporting events to be cancelled or postponed.
Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and the French Ligue 1 are all on hold and Germany’s Bundesliga followed suit on Friday.
But sport’s biggest showpiece, the Olympics, will still go ahead as planned, according to Tokyo organisers.
Responding to comments by Trump that the event could be delayed for a year, Japanese Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto told reporters: “The IOC and 2020 organisers are not at all considering cancelling or postponing the Games.”
Central banks worldwide acted to shore up money markets after cratering share prices drove a rush for cash, hitting many regional currencies and threatening a surge in short-term borrowing costs.
In China, which bore the brunt of the economic fallout from the coronavirus in the first few months of 2020, authorities late on Friday cut banks’ reserve requirements for the second time this year.
Japan’s central bank pledged to buy 200 billion yen ($1.90 billion) of five- to 10-year Japanese government bonds and also inject an additional 1.5 trillion yen in two-week loans.
The U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday offered a hefty $1.5 trillion in short-term loans to stimulate the economy and stabilize the financial system.
The European Union said it would establish a 37 billion euro investment initiative as part of a package of measures to cushion the bloc’s economies from the impact of the coronavirus.
In Italy, which after China has been hardest hit by the coronavirus, the death toll has jumped by 250 to 1,266 in the last 24 hours, the Civil Protection Agency said.
The total number of cases also rose to 17,660 from a previous 15,113, despite draconian measures across the country to restrict the movement of people.
In the northern region of Lombardy, at the epicentre of Italy’s coronavirus epidemic, authorities asked for even stricter steps.
“If we can resist for at least eight days, perhaps we will see things turn around,” Giulio Gallera, the local councillor responsible for welfare, told RAI 3 television.
POPE FRANCIS SPEAKS OUT
In Rome, Pope Francis rebelled against a decision by his Roman Catholic Church to close all the 750 churches in the Italian capital.
“Drastic measures are not always good,” the pope said on Friday in improvised remarks at the start of his morning Mass, streamed on the Internet.
Within hours, the Church in Rome rowed back on the order and said all parish churches and those run by religious communities could remain open. In Paris, some shared the Pope’s defiance.
At lunchtime in a busy restaurant area, hundreds of people soaked up the sun, eating, chatting and smoking on cafe terraces, adamant that the coronavirus would not get in the way of their lives.
“It’s a stressful atmosphere to talk about closing everything and staying at home. We need to be careful and stay in contact,” said Alexandra Baronnet, a manager in a large business. “It’s important in life.”