Coronavirus pandemic hits businesses, disrupts transportation worldwide
Iran Press TV
Sunday, 15 March 2020 4:26 PM
The new coronavirus pandemic is rapidly spreading across the globe, dealing hard blows to international and local businesses as well as disrupting public and global transportation to various levels as panicked tourists rush to get back to their home countries.
In a new blow to its domestic and global sales, American sportswear manufacturer Nike has decided to close all of its stores in the United States and several other countries in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The company announced in a statement on Sunday that Nike stores in Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand will be closed from March 16 to 27.
"We are taking additional steps in other Nike-managed facilities, including the option to work from home," the statement added.
Earlier this month, Nike temporarily closed its European headquarters in the Netherlands after an employee was infected with the new coronavirus.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, apparel retailer Urban Outfitters Inc, which owns brands, including Anthropologie and Free People, said it has decided to close all its consumer stores worldwide until at least March 28 because of the coronavirus.
The coronavirus, which emerged in China in December last year, has spread around the world, halting industries, bringing travel to a standstill, closing schools, and forcing the cancellation of public events.
The virus has so far infected over 147,000 people and killed more than 5,500 others.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.
Iraq imposes curfew in Baghdad over virus concerns
The Iraqi government on Sunday imposed a curfew in the capital Baghdad starting from March 17 and continuing until March 24 to prevent coronavirus from spreading, the country's state news agency was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Iraq also suspended all flights to and from Baghdad airport as of March 17 until March 24.
At least 110 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed so far in Iraq, and 10 people have died.
WTO prolongs shutdown, asks staff to work from home
The World Trade Organization has announced that it would prolong its meeting shutdown over COVID-19 until the end of April, saying it had asked most staff to work from home.
The Geneva-based world trade body initially announced last Tuesday that it would suspend all meetings until March 20 after one of its staff members contracted the new coronavirus.
But on Sunday, WTO chief Roberto Azevedo said that measure would be extended.
"In light of developments related to the COVID-19 virus and after meeting with UN agencies and observers in Geneva, we have taken a decision to suspend all meetings at the WTO until the end of April 2020," he said in a statement.
"This decision will be reviewed as appropriate," he added.
In addition, all WTO staff whose physical presence is not required to do their jobs have been asked to work remotely until the end of March, Azevedo said.
The United Nations-affiliated organization said it was "reviewing alternatives for arranging virtual meetings to enable members to participate remotely."
This came after the UN ordered all staff at its headquarters in New York and at the European headquarters in Geneva to work from home in coming weeks unless their presences was essential.
WTO's host-country Switzerland, where more than 2,200 people have been infected and more than a dozen have died, has also announced a raft of measures to halt the spread of coronavirus, including closing schools and tightening border controls.
Greece bans all routes to Albania, N Macedonia, flights to Spain
Greece says it would ban road and sea routes, as well as flights, to Albania and North Macedonia, and ban flights to and from Spain to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
It extended travel restrictions to Italy, saying it was banning passenger ship routes to and from the neighboring country, excluding cargo.
Greece has so far reported 4 fatalities from coronavirus as total number of infections rose to 331 on Sunday.
With mass gatherings banned and cafes, bars and gyms closed, authorities will also impose entry checks at supermarkets from Monday to avoid overcrowding.
Separately, the Greek Olympic Committee said on Sunday that the Olympic flame handover ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Games scheduled for March 19 will be held without an audience or journalists present.
France to limit long-distance train, bus, plane travel over coronavirus
France will progressively reduce long-distance train, bus and plane travel over the coming days in a bid to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the government says.
The country, which has already shuttered cafes, restaurants, schools and universities and urged people to limit their movements, will now seek to limit long-distance travel "to the strictly necessary," Ecology Minister Elisabeth Borne told journalists in Paris on Sunday.
Long-distance train traffic will be halved, with only "a few" international flights maintained, she said.
Deputy Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said this meant that "some flights to the United States, Africa, some domestic flights" and to France's overseas territories will be maintained.
Airports will remain open, but certain terminals will be closed -- one at Orly Airport in the south from Wednesday, and two at Charles De Gaulle in the north by the end of next week.
Regarding 12,000 French nationals stranded in Morocco after the kingdom suspended air links with 21 countries, Djebarri said they were being progressively repatriated.
Flights from Marrakesh, Casablanca and Rabat have already departed for France, and others are planned for later Sunday from Agadir and Tangiers.
Domestically, Djebarri said long-distance trains of the SNCF rail company will be halved in the coming days, and the regional TER service will run two trains in three.
In French cities and towns, 80 percent of metros, all buses and trams, and seven out of 10 suburban trains will continue running.
"Everyone must give up non-essential travel, leisure travel" and limit themselves to trips required for health, food and work, except if they could work from home, said Borne.
While closing all businesses providing non-essential goods and services in a bid to stem the coronavirus outbreak, France has allowed supermarkets, pharmacies, banks, gas stations and tobacco shops -- which also sell newspapers, snacks and stamps -- to remain open.
Tourists flood Morocco airports as flights cut over virus fears
Thousands of tourists have packed airports in Morocco, hoping to board scarce flights back to Europe after regular air links with some 30 countries were suspended in response to the coronavirus.
"There are flights, we are waiting at the counter. It is very tense," French traveler Sabrina told AFP by telephone from the southern tourist hub of Marrakesh on Sunday.
Morocco has suspended regular flights with some 30 countries affected by the new coronavirus epidemic, including Italy, France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Greece.
Flights to and from other destinations such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia were also scrapped, as were sea links with European countries.
But France announced that Rabat had agreed to allow special repatriation flights for its nationals.
"New flights are being organized to enable (stranded French tourists) to return to France," President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Saturday.
The French embassy, like other foreign missions, set up a special crisis cell and received more than 7,000 messages on Twitter between Friday and Saturday from tourists seeking assistance.
According to information provided by Moroccan airports and embassy notifications, several other flights were heading out of the North African country for Europe on Sunday.
The special repatriation flights were mostly headed to France, Belgium, Spain and Germany.
This sparked a rush on ticket purchases online, witnesses told AFP.
Tourism accounts for 10 percent of Morocco's GDP and is a key source of foreign revenue in the country, which last year had 13 million visitors.
Moroccan authorities have reported 18 cases of COVID-19, including one death.
The country has taken a series of measures to contain the spread of the virus, closing schools and universities, canceling sporting and cultural events and banning public gatherings of more than 50 people.
Libya shuts land borders, stops flights over coronavirus
The UN-recognized government in divided and war-torn Libya has said it will close from Monday land borders under its control in the west to keep out the coronavirus.
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) said air links would also be suspended, even if to date no cases of the COVID-19 illness have been reported by it or by a rival administration based in the country's east.
GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj made the announcement Saturday as he declared "a state of emergency and mobilization ... (to confront) the quick spread of coronavirus".
"All land borders and air space will be closed for three weeks starting from Monday," he said.
The move will affect the border with Tunisia and the suspension of flights from the city of Misrata, both in the west.
Tripoli's sole functioning airport was shut down 10 days ago as fighting raged between GNA forces and those of eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive in April last year to seize the capital.
On Friday, Libya's rival governments both announced two-week closures of schools and universities over fears of the virus arriving in the country.
Kazakhstan declares state of emergency over coronavirus
The president of Kazakhstan has declared a nationwide state of emergency to stem the spread of new coronavirus infections, further limiting travel and commerce.
The Central Asian country, which currently has only eight cases of COVID-19, will abide to new measures starting Monday for one month, according to a decree published on the website of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Sunday.
The state of emergency expands on measures announced Thursday to ban public events, also introducing "limits on functioning of large retail centers" and "limits" on entry and exit from the country, without explaining who would be banned from crossing the border.
All entertainment centers, including cinemas theaters and exhibits would be closed, it said.
The decree also unlocked funds from a government reserve to provide for the state of emergency, and tasked the government with "increasing control" over people who may be dodging quarantine or medical treatment.
A World Trade Organization conference scheduled in Kazakhstan in June is also unlikely but the official decision is yet to be made at a general council meeting.
Neighboring Uzbekistan, which registered its first case Sunday, announced it is closing its borders to all transport.
Austria bans gatherings of more than 5 people over coronavirus
Austria has tightened restrictions on public life, banning gatherings of more than five people and restricting any movement to that which is absolute necessary, saying police would enforce the rules in a bid to halt the spread of coronvirus.
The tougher measures were decided at an extraordinary session of parliament, during which Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called on the population to self-isolate, only move out of doors when absolutely necessary and limit contacts to "the people they live with."
India proposes emergency fund to fight coronavirus
India has proposed setting up an emergency fund to fight the coronavirus outbreak in South Asia, with New Delhi offering $10 million to get it going, as the number of confirmed infections in the country rose past 100.
"Any of us can use the fund to meet the cost of immediate actions," Prime Minister Narendra Modi told regional leaders via video conference on Sunday, adding that India would also offer rapid response teams and other expertise to deal with the crisis.
Modi said there were fewer than 150 cases in countries comprising the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but the situation ahead was uncertain.
"This is why it would be most valuable for all of us to share our perspectives," Modi told SAARC leaders.
On Sunday, India's federal health ministry reported that the number of coronavirus infections had risen to 107, an increase of 23 from the day before, with a western state home to the country's financial capital the worst hit.
Data from the ministry showed that there were now 31 confirmed coronavirus cases in Maharashtra state, where local authorities have closed down schools, colleges and malls in most cities, including in the financial hub of Mumbai.
"The number could go up as we are waiting for test reports of people who were in close contact with patients who have tested positive," a state health official said, on condition of anonymity.
In Mumbai, unions involved with its Bollywood film industry - one of the largest in the world - said that they would stop all work until the end of March.
"We can't take any chances," Kulmeet Makkar, CEO of the Producers Guild of India, told Reuters, adding that around 200,000 people are directly employed with the industry in Mumbai.
India, a country of 1.3 billion people, has so far fared better than elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America, with only two deaths because of the virus.
But experts say India's already overstretched medical system would struggle to deal with a major rise in serious cases.
India has already suspended most visas to the country and shut many land borders with neighboring countries in a wide-reaching attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Hungary confirms first death from coronavirus
Hungary's government communication center has confirmed the central European nation's first official victim of the new coronavirus, state news agency MTI reports.
A 75 year-old Hungarian national died shortly after being hospitalized with severe pneumonia and a suspected coronavirus infection.
Hungary has 32 confirmed coronavirus cases and 159 people in quarantine, according to government data.
The government closed all schools and introduced restrictions on public gathering this week.
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