Spain, France tighten curbs in coronavirus fight

Spain and France have announced sweeping new restrictions on daily life in a bid to contain the coronavirus outbreaks in their countries, as the Philippines seals off Manila in the most aggressive response to the pandemic yet seen in Southeast Asia, and Australia orders all arrivals from overseas to go into quarantine for 14 days.

In other developments, US President Donald Trump was tested for the virus, with the result coming back negative. Meanwhile, Begona Gomez – the wife of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez – has been diagnosed with the virus.

The worldwide death toll from COVID-19 now exceeds 5,300 people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described Europe as the new “epicentre” of the outbreak, which began late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The US has announced that it is extending the travel restrictions imposed on most European nations to the United Kingdom and Ireland with effect from Monday.

Sunday, March 15
09:33 GMT – Austria imposes major restrictions on movement
Austria introduced major restrictions on movement in public places, urging Austrians to self-isolate, banning gatherings of more than five persons and further reducing entries from other countries.

It was not clear whether the restrictions were meant to come into force immediately, although restaurants were ordered closed from Tuesday.

“Austrians are being summoned to isolate themselves,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s office said in a statement. “That means only making social contact with the people with whom they live.”

Visitors from Great Britain, the Netherlands, Russia and Ukraine would not be allowed into the country, the chancellor’s office said in a statement, unless they undertook two weeks of home quarantine or had a current health certificate.

09:30 GMT – Philippines reports 3 more coronavirus deaths, 29 new cases
The Philippines recorded three additional coronavirus deaths and 29 new cases, bringing the domestic tally of infections to 140 and death toll to 11, as authorities placed the entire capital Manila under “community quarantine” for about a month beginning on Sunday.

The latest deaths include an 83-year-old American male with travel history from the United States and South Korea, the Department of Health said in an advisory. The other two are Filipinos.

09:25 GMT – Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque shut: Islamic Waqf
Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock will shut their doors as a precaution against coronavirus, Islamic religious authorities said, while outdoor prayers will still be allowed at the complex that houses Islam’s third holiest site.

“The Islamic Waqf department decided to shut down the enclosed prayer places inside the blessed Aqsa mosque until further notice as a protective measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus. All prayers will be held in the open areas of the Aqsa mosque,” Omar Kiswani, the director of Al-Aqsa mosque, told Reuters news agency.

09:13 GMT – Malaysia reports 190 new coronavirus cases
Malaysia reported 190 new cases of coronavirus, most linked to a religious event at a mosque that was attended by more than 10,000 people from several countries.

The new cases bring the total number of infections in the country to 428, the health ministry said in a statement.

09:08 GMT – Kuwait confirms eight new cases
The Kuwaiti Health Ministry announced it registered eight new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 112 cases.

Health Ministry spokesman Abdullah Al-Sanad said six of the latest cases were of Kuwaiti citizens returning from the United Kingdom and those who came in contacts with those infected, according to the Kuwaiti news agency (KUNA).

One case was of a Kuwaiti recently returning from France via the United Arab Emirates and the other was of a fellow citizen returning from Iran, Al-Sanad said.

09:00 GMT – Congo Republic reports first coronavirus case
Congo Republic has reported its first case of coronavirus, a 50-year-old French-Congolese man who arrived on an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Paris on March 1, the government said in a statement.

08:45 GMT – Jordan announces six new cases of coronavirus, total 7
Jordan confirmed six new cases of coronavirus, including one from an American tourist coming from Egypt, the minister of health said.

The kingdom had previously reported only one case of the virus. It took measures to fight the outbreak on Saturday, including a tighter lockdown that closes all borders and bans all incoming and outgoing flights as of Tuesday.

08:40 GMT – India’s coronavirus cases at 107 as Modi plans regional response
India 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 India’s federal health 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, declining to be named since he isn’t authorities to speak to media.

07:50 GMT – Vatican to hold Easter celebrations without congregation
The Vatican said its traditional Easter week celebrations would be held this year without worshippers.

“Because of the current global public health emergency, all the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week will take place without the physical presence of the faithful,” the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household said in a statement.

The Vatican also said: “Until April 12, the general audiences and the Angelus presided over by the Holy Father will be available only in live streaming on the official Vatican News website.”

07:02 GMT – Coronavirus crisis delays opening of Netanyahu trial
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial has been delayed for two months, until May, due to the coronavirus crisis.

Israel’s Justice Ministry said the trial, due to have opened on March 17 with the reading of an indictment against Israel’s longest-serving leader in three graft cases, would begin on May 24 “due to developments related to the spread of the coronavirus”.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in the investigations.

07:00 GMT – Indonesia reports 21 new coronavirus cases
Indonesia reported 21 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 117, CNN Indonesia reported, citing health ministry official Achmad Yurianto.

Of the new cases, 19 were detected in Jakarta and two in the Central Java province, Yurianto reportedly said.

06:55 GMT – Taiwan reports six new coronavirus cases
Taiwan reported six new cases of the coronavirus, all imported and marking the biggest daily rise in infections, in people who had returned to the island from countries including Spain and Japan, bringing its total tally to 59.

The other countries those infected had travelled to were Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Thailand, while two of the patients had transited in Dubai, the government added.

Taiwan has only reported one death from the virus, while 20 have recovered and have been released from hospital. The other cases are all in stable condition.

06:50 GMT – Thailand reports 32 new cases, brings total to 114
Thailand reported 32 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total infections in the Southeast Asian country to 114, health officials said.

It was the biggest daily jump in cases in Thailand, which was one of the first countries outside China to report coronavirus infections that have since swept much of the world.

06:00 GMT
Tamila Varshalomidze, my colleague in Doha, will be taking over the blog shortly.

Here’s a summary of what has happened over the past few hours:

Australia has said it will require everyone arriving from overseas to go into quarantine for 14 days.

The Philippines is sealing off Manila, its capital, from the rest of the country and roadblocks have been set up around the city. We will be bringing you more on the situation there later.

The US president, Donald Trump, has tested negative for coronavirus.

Begona Gomez – the wife of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez – was diagnosed with coronavirus shortly after her husband announced sweeping new restrictions to daily life in Spain.

05:50 GMT – El Salvador declares state of emergency over coronavirus
El Salvador has not reported a single confirmed case of coronavirus, but congress there has declared a state of emergency and approved a partial suspension of the country’s constitution to tackle any outbreak.

The measures include a restriction on free movement and assembly for a period of 30 days, allowing health officials to ban public gatherings.

“We have given the government legal mechanisms to deal with this serious health situation,” congressional President Mario Ponce said after Saturday’s vote.

05:45 GMT – Uzbekistan confirms first case of coronavirus
An Uzbek citizen has tested positive for coronavirus after returning from France, Uzbekistan’s health ministry said on Sunday, marking the first case of the virus in the Central Asian country of 34 million.

05:30 GMT – Passengers held on cruise ship in New Zealand
Passengers on the Golden Princess cruise liner were barred from disembarking at a New Zealand port on Sunday because of a suspected coronavirus case on board, health officials said.

There were 2,600 passengers and 1,100 crew members on the boat docked at Akaroa near the South Island city of Christchurch, according to the port’s cruise ship schedule.

New Zealand’s director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said the ship’s doctor had quarantined three passengers. One of them has developed COVID-19 symptoms and is being treated as a suspected case.

“All on board are not being allowed off the ship until results are known,” Bloomfield said.

03:40 GMT – Australia to require self-isolation of all international arrivals
Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison says the country will require everyone arriving from overseas – Australians or nationals of other countries – to go through 14 days of self-isolation.

“We are going to have to get used to some changes in the way we live our lives,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a press conference. The measure is due to come into effect from midnight on Sunday (13:00 GMT).

Morrison also said all cruise ships would be banned entirely and that he expects “visitor traffic will dry up very very, very quickly”.

“If your mate has been to Bali and they come back and they turn up at work and they are sitting next to you, well, they will be committing an offence,” Morrison said.

03:35 GMT – Japan cases rise to 780
Japan’s Health Ministry has announced 64 new cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 780. The country also has 697 other cases from a cruise ship that was stranded in the country.

The ministry said the death toll has risen to 29, including seven former cruise ship passengers.

The new cases come from 13 prefectures, including Hokkaido, Tokyo and Osaka.

03:30 GMT – South Korea to declare ‘special disaster’ zones over virus
South Korea is expected to declare Daegu and the nearby province of North Gyeongsang “special disaster zones” on Sunday, to enable authorities to channel more support to them.

Some 90 percent of cases in the country have been in those two areas.

South Korea is also stepping up travel restrictions on arrivals from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom, which will require them to be tested for fever and share their health data via a specially created app.

02:50 GMT – Lebanon to announce a ‘state of medical emergency’ over virus
Lebanon is expected to announce a “state of medical emergency” on Sunday, shutting down all public and private institutions except hospitals, pharmacies and bakeries, a presidential palace source told Al Jazeera’s Timour Azhari, who is in Beirut.

Supermarkets “will open within specific times, not all the time” while banks will be ordered closed.

You can read more about what’s expected to happen here.

02:25 GMT – Face mask shortages lead to resale bans and crackdowns
A law banning the resale of face masks has gone into effect in Japan as the government tries to address severe shortages as a result of the outbreak.

Those who violate the law that came into effect on Sunday risk a prison term of up to one year or a fine of up to one million yen ($9,260).

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, authorities are telling retailers to stop selling four types of surgical masks because their bacterial counts exceeded maximum legal limits.

The masks are sold in boxes of 50 pieces each and two of the samples listed Nepal and Turkey as the countries of manufacture, Hong Kong customs said in a statement. The others were unlabelled, but are thought to have come from Southeast Asia.

02:20 GMT – Mexico brings forward Easter holidays in coronavirus fight
Mexico’s Education Minister Esteban Moctezuma says schools and universities will start their Easter holidays early as the government steps up its efforts to tackle the coronavirus.

The Easter break will start on Friday, March 20, and last for 30 days instead of 15, Moctezuma said.

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