The global march of the new virus triggered a vigorous appeal Thursday from the WHO for governments to pull out “all the stops” to slow the epidemic, as it drained color from India’s spring festivities, closed Bethlehem’s Nativity Church and blocked Italians from visiting elderly relatives in nursing homes.
As China, after many arduous weeks, appeared to be winning its epic, costly battle against the new virus, the fight was revving up in newly affected areas of the globe, unleashing disruptions that profoundly impacted billions of people.
The U.N. health agency urged all countries to “push this virus back,” a call to action reinforced by figures showing about 17 times as many new infections outside China as in it. The virus has infected nearly 98,000 people and killed over 3,300.
As Chinese manufacturers gradually reopened their factories, anti-virus barriers went up elsewhere. In Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak, workers in latex gloves pinned “closed” notices on school gates, enforcing a 10-day shutdown of the education system. Italy’s sports-mad fans are also barred from stadiums until April 3.
Parks in Rome overflowed with young and old, undercutting government efforts to shield older Italians from the virus that hits the elderly harder than others. Italy has the world’s oldest population after Japan.
Italy’s death toll climbed Thursday to 148, and its confirmed cases to 3,858. Iran, which has registered 107 virus deaths, also closed schools and universities and introduced checkpoints to limit travel between major cities.
Iranians were urged to reduce their use of paper money. Iranian state TV also reported that Hossein Sheikholeslam, a 68-year-old diplomat who was an adviser to Iran’s foreign minister, had died of the virus.
Virus fears also affected the joyful Indian celebration of Holi, in which Hindu revelers celebrate the arrival of spring with bursts of color, including bright powders smeared on faces. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders said they wouldn’t attend Holi events and the Holi Moo Festival in New Delhi was canceled.
In the United States, where 12 have died from the virus, hundreds were placed in self-quarantines due to cases in a New York suburb. A suburban Seattle school district with 22,000 students announced it would close for up to two weeks because of coronavirus concerns and Seattle’s normally clogged highways were nearly vacant for Thursday’s morning commute as large tech employers like Amazon encouraged employees to work from home.
Outbreak fears led to a sharp U.S. stock selloff, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 969 points, or 3.6 percent, nearly wiping out gains from a day earlier. Analysts said more yo-yo moves on global markets are likely while new infections accelerate. The OPEC oil cartel called for a deep production cut to keep crude prices from falling further as disruption to global business from the coronavirus slashes demand from air travel and industry — deciding Thursday to push for a cut of 1.5 million barrels a day, or about 1.5% of total world supply.
Across the globe, travelers faced ever-greater disruptions, as countries sought to keep the virus out. But South Africa confirmed its first case Thursday, becoming the seventh African nation to report infections. Britain and Switzerland reported their first coronavirus deaths.
Sri Lankans arriving from Italy, South Korea and Iran will be quarantined at a hospital once used for leprosy patients. In China, where hospitals were releasing hundreds of recovered patients, officials reported 139 new infection cases and 31 more deaths. Overall, China has reported 80,409 cases and 3,012 deaths, and authorities say about 6,000 people remained hospitalized in serious condition.