Coronavirus Update: Travel Restrictions Imposed in China, Spanish Health Workers Applauded, Infection Rate in South Korea Slows

More than 152,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 5,393 deaths have been reported, according to the World Health Organization as of Sunday morning, as the new coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world.

Travel restrictions have been tightened in China with tougher checks put in place on those arriving at Beijing airport on Sunday. This followed news that coronavirus infections overtook locally transmitted cases for a second day in a row, Reuters reported.

There were 20 new cases of infections reported on mainland China on March 14, up from 11 cases the previous day, the National Health Commission (NHC) said, and of those, 16 were imported.

However cities with no infections in the last few days like Shanghai and Hangzhou have started opening tourist attractions and some restaurants. The western region of Xinjiang will also start reopening schools, Reuters reported.

Hubei province
A passenger has his temperature checked by the border between Chinas central Jiangxi province and Hubei province. The area is the epicentre of the country's COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. NOEL CELIS/Getty Images

The effects of a U.S. travel ban on Europe's Schengen countries, which will also include the United Kingdom and Ireland, combined with the wider impact of the virus have hit the international travel industry hard.

On Friday, the head of British Airways, Alex Cruz, warned that the impact would be greater than the 9/11 terror attacks, the SARS outbreak, and the global financial crash of 2008. American Airlines said it would start a phased suspension of nearly all long-haul international flights from Monday.

Health Workers in Spain Applauded, France and Austria Close Non-Essential Businesses

Spain has been the latest European country to follow Italy and France in implementing emergency restrictions to fight the spread of the virus, with people banned from leaving home unless they are purchasing essential supplies and medicines or going to work.

People in the country have expressed their gratitude to health workers, with video of them stepping out onto the balcony and applauding, being widely shared on social media, including by Spain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In a message posted to Twitter, it said the country had "one of the best health systems in the world and a large spirit of solidarity. Today we honour our medical health professionals fighting in the front line against #COVID19."

In another tweet, footage of applause from a neighborhood in Barcelona was shared by Catalan News, with the message, "All of Spain bursts into a round of applause for doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers working during the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic."

In neighboring France, where the death toll has climbed to over 90, restaurants, cinemas, and most shops are now shut. Domaines Skiables, which is in charge of France's skiing sector, said all ski resorts in the country would close on Sunday. In a statement, it said that "holiday-makers and professionals, all of us sport-lovers, we must accept reality given the seriousness of the situation."

In Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the restaurants, bars and non-essential shops would also close as would playgrounds and sports grounds.

In a sobering reminder of the how Italy, the worst-hit European country, has been affected by the outbreak, a local newspaper in Lombardy, the Eco di Bergamo, posted 10 times more death notices than it did a month ago, according to a tweet that was widely shared.

British Government to Urge Over-70s to Stay at Home

In the U.K., where the confirmed number of coronavirus cases has reached 1,140, while 37,746 people have been tested, health secretary Matt Hancock said his government was still considering following the lead of Spain, France and Italy by closing restaurants, bars and other shops. He told BBC News, "We haven't ruled that out, we will do what is necessary."

He also told the broadcaster that everyone aged over 70 will be told soon to stay at home for an extended period.

The Guardian reported that the British government was also looking at bringing in retired medical staff to return to work, although this has been met with criticism, with many in the profession saying it would be too dangerous for their health.

Coronavirus testing lab
Swab samples at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, are tested for coronavirus. The World Health Organization says the Europe is at the center of the pandemic. Jane Barlow/Getty Images

Death Toll Rises in Iran

The official death toll in Iran, which is faced with one of the worst outbreaks outside China, reached 724, with 113 new deaths in the past 24 hours, according to Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to Iran's health minister. There are now 13,938 infected across the country although the real number could be even higher as the government has faced claims that it is playing down the outbreak.

"If the trend continues, there will not be enough capacity," Ali Reza Zali, who is leading the campaign against the outbreak, was quoted as saying, the Associated Press reported.

Netanyahu trial postponed, New Zealand Memorial Service Cancelled, and South Korea Recovers

Elsewhere, the corruption trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which was due to start on Tuesday, has been postponed until 24 May due to a "state of emergency" in the courts. Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, a memorial service for the first anniversary of the Christchurch mosque attacks was cancelled and the country announced a compulsory self-isolation for all those arriving from outside the Pacific Islands.

However, there was positive news in South Korea, which reported more recoveries than new infections for the second day in a row, raising hopes Asia's biggest epidemic outside China may be slowing. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said there were 107 new coronavirus cases on Saturday compared with 110 a day earlier, taking the national tally to 8,086, according to Reuters.

Nicaragua Encourages Public Gatherings

The government of Nicaragua, which has so far not reported any positive cases, has organized rallies titled "Love Walk in the Time of Covid-19," in a nod to the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "Love in the Time of Cholera," CNN reported.

People carrying red and blag flags of the ruling FSLN party marched with posters that had advice for hand washing.The ministry said "epidemiological surveillance" had been put in place in airports and borders, and 19 hospitals but it has not implemented any quarantine procedures for people arriving from countries affected by the outbreak.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of COVID-19

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing;
  • When caring for the sick; before; during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • If you feel unwell seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities, follow guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks.
  • Clean hands after disposing of mask, do not reuse single-use masks.