ROME — Italy mulled imposing even tighter restrictions on daily life and announced billions in financial relief Wednesday to cushion economic shocks from the coronavirus, its latest efforts to adjust to the fast-evolving health crisis that also silenced the usually bustling heart of the Catholic faith, St. Peter’s Square.
Premier Giuseppe Conte said he will consider requests to toughen Italy’s already extraordinary anti-virus lockdown that was extended nationwide Tuesday. Lombardy, Italy’s hardest-hit region, is pushing for a shutdown of nonessential businesses and public transportation on top of travel and social restrictions already in force.
But Conte said fighting Italy’s more than 10,000 infections must not come at the expense of civil liberties, appearing cautious about any move toward the draconian quarantine measures imposed in China, where the outbreak started but is now subsiding.
Conte’s government also announced it is earmarking 25 billion euros (nearly $28 billion) to boost anti-virus efforts and soften economic blows, including delaying tax and mortgage payments by families and businesses.
With police barring access to St. Peter’s Square, emptying it of tens of thousands of people who usually come on Wednesdays for the weekly papal address, Pope Francis instead livestreamed prayers from the privacy of his Vatican library.
Across the world, repercussions from the virus mounted.
In the U.S., the caseload passed 1,000, and outbreaks on both sides of the country stirred alarm. In Europe, deaths soared among Italy’s aging population.
“Right now, the epicenter — the new China — is Europe,” said Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Rome’s usual boisterous hum was reduced to a whisper as Italy’s 62 million people were told to mostly stay home. Police enforced rules that customers stay 1 meter (3 feet) apart and ensured that businesses closed by 6 p.m.
Authorities said 631 people have died of COVID-19 in Italy, with an increase of 168 fatalities recorded Tuesday. The health crisis is dealing a serious blow to the country’s economy — the third-largest of the 19 countries using the euro — and threatened instability worldwide.
Markets across Asia dropped Wednesday despite Wall Street’s gains a day earlier. Investors seemed encouraged by promises by U.S. President Donald Trump of a relief package to cushion economic pain from the outbreak. Governments around Asia and elsewhere have also announced billions of dollars in stimulus funds, including packages revealed in Japan on Tuesday and Australia on Wednesday.
“Investors are still worried that those fiscal stimulus packages may not be able to contain the virus outbreak as well as to mitigate the impact on the economy,” said Louis Wong of Philip Capital Management.
For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 119,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 4,200 have died.
But the vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The virus has disrupted travel, closed schools and halted manufacturing around the globe.
In the U.S., dozens of cases were being tied to a conference in Boston, and leaders in multiple states were announcing curbs on large events. Colleges emptied their classrooms as they moved to online instruction and uncertainty surrounded the upcoming opening of the major league baseball season and college basketball’s championships. Even the famed buffets of Las Vegas were affected, with some of the Strip’s biggest being closed as a precaution.
“It’s terrifying,” said Silvana Gomez, a student at Harvard University, where undergraduates were told to leave campus by Sunday. “I’m definitely very scared right now about what the next couple days, the next couple weeks look like.”
New York’s governor said National Guard troops would scrub public places and deliver food to a suburb where infections have spiked. In Washington state, where a Seattle-area nursing home was the center of an outbreak, officials said the virus had spread to at least 10 other long-term care facilities. In California, thousands of restless passengers remained stuck aboard a cruise ship, waiting for their turn to get off and begin quarantines.
Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are vying to take on Trump in the presidential election, abruptly canceled rallies Tuesday and left open the possibility that future campaign events could be impacted, too. Trump’s campaign insisted it would proceed as normal, although Vice President Mike Pence conceded future rallies would be evaluated “on a day to day basis.”
It was all evidence of the continuing westward push of the virus. In China, where it first cropped up, officials said they’d counted only 24 new cases on Wednesday.
In a reversal of positions, China is seeing new cases brought in from overseas. In Beijing, the capital, all the new cases of COVID-19 reported on Wednesday came from outside the country, five from Italy and one from the United States.
“The epidemic situation is at a low level and the prevention and control are continuously going well,” said Mi Feng, spokesman for the National Health Commission.
The province at the center of China’s virus outbreak said manufacturers, food processors and other businesses deemed essential to the economy or providing daily necessities can resume operation.
The other major outbreak site in Asia, South Korea, continued to report improving numbers, too, with 242 new cases. Still, a cluster of infections connected to a call center in one of the busiest areas of Seoul raised alarms.
March 11, 2020
Barry reported from Soave, Italy. Associated Press writers Matt Sedensky in Bangkok; John Leicester in Paris; Joe McDonald and Ken Moritsugu in Beijing; Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Categories: World News