WHO Urges the Globe to ‘Pull Out the Stops’ Against Coronavirus Outbreak

Date: 2020-03-05 16:57:40

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The global march of the new virus triggered a vigorous appeal Thursday from the World Health Organization for governments to pull out “all the stops” to slow the epidemic that has 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 just 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 there are now about 17 times as many new infections outside China as in it. To date, the virus has infected nearly 97,000 people and killed over 3,300.

“This is not a drill. This is not the time for giving up. This is not a time of for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a daily briefing in Geneva. “Countries have been planning for scenarios like this for decades. Now is the time to act on those plans.”

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.

A government decree that took effect Thursday urged the country’s famously demonstrative citizens to stay at least 1 meter (3 feet) apart from each other, placed restrictions on visiting nursing homes and urged the elderly not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.

That directive appeared to be widely ignored, as school closures nationwide left many Italian children in the care of their grandparents. Parks in Rome overflowed with both 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.

Lorenzo Romano, making lunch for his grandchildren, saw a positive side.

“Altogether, it makes me happy, because then I have them around me more,” he said.

Iran, which like Italy has registered 107 virus deaths, has also closed schools and universities. Now it has introduced checkpoints to limit travel between major cities. Iranians were urged to reduce their use of paper money and have gas station attendants fill their car tanks.

Amid the string of bad news, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged state television to offer “happier” programs to entertain those stuck at home.

“I urge all artists, scientists, psychologists and all who can bring smiles to people’s faces, come into the social media,” he said.

Brian Hook, the U..S. special representative for Iran, said the United States offered humanitarian assistance to help Iran deal with its outbreak but “the regime rejected the offer.” He said the offer would stand.

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 11 have died from the virus, hundreds of people were placed in self-quarantines due to cases in a New York suburb. A school district north of Seattle with 22,000 students announced it will close for up to two weeks because of coronavirus concerns.

Financial markets remained volatile, as investors continue to weigh the size of the epidemic’s dent on the global economy. The U.S. stock market was down in early trading Thursday. Analysts say more yo-yo moves on global markets are likely as long as the number of new infections continues to accelerate.

Ministers from the oil-producing countries in OPEC were weighing slashing output to control plunging prices.

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.

“The virus doesn’t care about race and belief or color. It is attacking us all, equally,” said Ian MacKay, who studies viruses at the University of Queensland in Australia.

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