France and Spain joined Italy in imposing lockdowns on tens of millions of people, Australia ordered self-isolation of arriving foreigners and Argentina and El Salvadore extended entry bans as the world sought to contain the spreading coronavirus.
Panic buying in Australia, the United States and Britain saw leaders appeal for calm over the spread of the virus, that has infected over 160,000 people globally and killed more than 6,000 people.
Several countries imposed bans on mass gathering, shuttered sporting, cultural and religious events, while medical experts urged people to practice “social distancing” to curb the spread.
All of Pope Francis’ Easter services next month will be held without the faithful attending, the Vatican said on Sunday, a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times.
The services, four days of major events from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, usually draw tens of thousands of people to sites in Rome and in the Vatican.
US President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, as it recorded more than 2,000 cases and 50 deaths.
China too tightened checks on international travellers arriving at Beijing airport on Sunday, after the number of imported new coronavirus infections surpassed locally transmitted cases for the second day in a row.
Anyone arriving to Beijing from abroad will be transferred directly to a central quarantine facility for 14 days for observation starting March 16, a city government official said.
China, where the epidemic began in December, now appears to face a greater threat of new infections from outside its borders, as it continues to slow the spread of the virus domestically.
China has reported 80,984 cases and 3,203 deaths, according to a Reuters tally, of which 66,911 have recovered in mainland China, which has imposed draconian containment policies, locking down several major cities.
Spain in lockdown
Spain put its 47 million inhabitants under partial lockdown on Saturday as part of a 15-day state of emergency to combat the epidemic in Europe’s second worst-affected country after Italy.
A spike in deaths reported in Spain from 183 on Saturday to 288 on Sunday, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources.
Britain is preparing to ban mass gatherings, while isolating people aged over 70 for up to four months is part of its action plan to tackle coronavirus which will be implemented in the coming weeks, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that from midnight on Sunday, international travellers arriving in the country would need to isolate themselves for 14 days, and foreign cruise ships would be banned for 30 days, given a rise in imported cases.
“What we’ve seen in recent weeks, is more countries having issues with the virus and that means the source of some of those transmissions are coming from more and more countries,” Morrison told a news conference.
Australia’s latest restrictions mirror those announced by neighbouring New Zealand on Saturday. Australia has recorded more than 250 coronavirus cases and three deaths.
South Korea began to subject visitors from France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands to stricter border checks, after imposing similar rules for China, Italy and Iran which have major outbreaks