The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged an all-out global offensive against the epidemic after almost 300 million students worldwide faced weeks at home with Italy and India the latest to shut schools over the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak.
Over 95,000 people have been infected and over 3,200 have died worldwide from the virus, which by Thursday had reached more than 80 countries and territories.
The US state of California declared an emergency following its first coronavirus fatality – raising the US death toll to 11 – and a cruise ship was kept offshore after passengers and crew members developed symptoms.
Switzerland reported its first death from the outbreak on Thursday, while Bosnia and South Africa confirmed their first cases and Greece’s cases surged after 21 travellers recently returned from a bus trip to Israel and Egypt tested positive for the virus.
Most deaths and infections are in China, where the virus first emerged late last year, prompting the country to quarantine entire cities, temporarily shut factories and close schools indefinitely. But it has quickly spread beyond China’s borders.
Several countries have implemented extraordinary measures, with UNESCO saying on Wednesday that school closures in more than a dozen countries have affected 290.5 million children.
India, the world’s second most populous country, later announced it was closing all primary schools in the capital New Delhi until the end of March to prevent the virus from spreading.
The orders came as an India-EU summit scheduled for March 13 was also postponed.
While temporary school closures during crises are not new, UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education”.
Italy on Wednesday ordered schools and universities shut until March 15, ramping up its response as national fatalities rose to 107. South Korea — second to China in terms of infections with cases jumping past 6,000 on Thursday — has postponed the start of the next term until March 23.
In Japan, nearly all schools are closed after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for classes to be cancelled until early April.
Schools have also shut in Iran, where 107 people have died from the disease — alongside Italy, the deadliest outbreak outside China.
Infections are now rising faster abroad than they are in China, where 31 more deaths and 139 new cases were reported Thursday.
China’s toll now stands at 3,012, with over 80,000 infections.
The IMF said it was making USD 50 billion in aid available for low-income and emerging-market countries to fight the epidemic, which it sees as a “serious threat” that would slow global growth to below last year’s 2.9 per cent.
“At a time of uncertainty… it is better to do more than to do not enough,” IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said.
In the United States, lawmakers reached a deal to provide more than USD 8 billion to fight the outbreak. Thousands of people were stranded on the Grand Princess off the California coast Wednesday as officials delayed its return to carry out tests on people on board.