Spain locked down its 46 million citizens and France ordered the closing of just about everything the rest of the world loves about it — the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the cafes and restaurants — as governments took increasingly desperate measures to put more space between people and contain the coronavirus.
More borders snapped shut around the globe on Saturday and Sunday: President Donald Trump announced that the US, which days ago barred travelers from most of Europe, will extend the ban to Britain and Ireland. In the Philippines, thousands of police and soldiers started sealing the densely populated capital from most domestic travelers in one of Southeast Asia’s most drastic containment moves.
Meanwhile, China, where the virus first appeared late last year, continued to relax its drastic restrictions, illustrating the way the center of gravity in the crisis has shifted westward toward Europe. The virus has infected more than 150,000 people worldwide and killed over 5,600.
In a lockdown similar to the one already imposed in Italy, people will be allowed to leave their homes only to buy food and medicine, commute to work, go to hospitals and banks, or take trips related to the care of the young and the elderly. All schools and universities were closed, along with restaurants, bars, hotels and other non-essential retail businesses.
“From now we enter into a new phase,” Sánchez said after a Cabinet meeting that lasted over seven hours. “We won’t hesitate in doing what we must to beat the virus. We are putting health first.”
Spanish authorities said the number of infections climbed past 5,700, half of them in the capital, Madrid. That represents a national increase of over 1,500 in 24 hours. The country had 136 deaths, up from 120. Spain has the fifth-highest number of cases, behind China, Italy, Iran and South Korea.
Despite please for calm from authorities, shoppers packed supermarkets in Spain in the morning. But overall, the normally bustling streets of the country’s two biggest cities were noticeably quieter as the message sank in that social distancing is the only way to stop the pandemic.
“We had to close and remain shut for 15 days,” restaurant owner Rachel Paparardo said in Barcelona, which was already under regional restrictions. “But this is nothing. It is just so more people don’t get infected and we can recover from this.”
Paris followed other cities in shuttering major tourist attractions, and France announced the closing of all restaurants, cafes, theaters and nonessential shops starting Sunday. France has recorded at least 3,600 infections. It has banned all gatherings of more than 100 people, ordered all schools closed and asked companies to allow workers to stay home.
France pressed ahead with plans for nationwide municipal elections on Sunday but ordered special measures to keep people at a safe distance and to sanitize surfaces.
In Italy, the worst-hit European country, the number of deaths climbed past 1,400 and infections surged roughly 20 percent overnight to more than 21,000 because of what authorities characterized as irresponsible behavior by people still socializing despite the nationwide lockdown. Many Italian cities, including Rome and Milan, decided to close playgrounds and parks, too.
Premier Giuseppe Conte has said production — particularly of food and health supplies — must not stop. On Saturday, union and industrial leaders reached an agreement to keep factories running.
European countries took steps to isolate themselves from their neighbors.
Denmark closed its borders and halted passenger traffic to and from the country. Travelers will be turned away at the border if they are unable to show that they have “a legitimate reason” to enter — for example, if they are Danish citizens or residents.
Poland planned to close is borders at midnight and deny all foreigners entry unless they lived in Poland or had personal ties there. The Czech Republic and Slovakia took similar action. Lithuania said it was introducing border checks at the frontiers with Poland and Latvia.
Russia said its borders with Norway and Poland will be closed to most foreigners beginning Sunday.
Header: People wearing masks and carrying supplies walk past a mannequin wearing a mask in downtown Barcelona, Spain, March 14, 2020 (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)