Coronavirus: What’s happening in Europe

People wearing protective face masks during the Pope Francis' Sunday Angelus in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican City on 1 March 2020. [EPA-EFE/FABIO FRUSTACI]

The COVID-19 novel coronavirus is spreading through Europe. Apart from the health risk, it is also forcing businesses, as well as EU institutions, to cancel travel and public events and switch to teleworking, in the hope of slowing the epidemic.


All of EURACTIV’s coronavirus-related stories can be found here.


EURACTIV will keep you updated on what is happening throughout Europe, using its network of offices and media partners. Meanwhile, you can also keep track of industry event cancellations around the globe here.


Today’s top news: Austria tightens measures to stop COVID-19 spread / UK Prime Minister tests positive for COVID-19 / Romania‘s health minister resigns / France extends lockdown until 15 April / Czech Republic launches ‘smart quarantine’


MASK DIPLOMACY: In this Special Edition of the Capitals, the EURACTIV Network looks into how China’s ‘mask diplomacy’ has been perceived by the different EU member states facing the COVID-19 crisis.

CASHLESS: Authorities are encouraging the use of electronic payments as a safer measure to maintain social distance and contain the spread of the coronavirus. Read more.

CORONABONDS: EU leaders continued to disagree over the economic response to the coronavirus as Northern countries rejected the idea of issuing joint debt, known as “coronabonds”, proposed by nine member states to finance the recovery.

AGRI-FOOD SECTOR MEASURES: EU agriculture ministers have called for further specific and targeted measures to address the difficulties faced by the agri-food sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic such as restrictions in the movement of foodstuff, changes in the operation of production systems and insufficient workforce. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.

EU SOLIDARITY: European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen heavily criticised the lack of solidarity between member states facing the COVID19 outbreak during a debate in the European Parliament about the EU’s response to the crisis. EURACTIV’s Beatriz Rios reports.

MEDIA PLAN: Will the media be saved like the banks were? In this Open Letter to the President of the EU Commission, media stakeholders and experts, in a personal capacity, along with current and former MEPs, ask for the Commission to help sustain the media sector in this testing time.

After a reduced European Parliament plenary session discussed COVID-19 (10 March), group leaders adopted a revised meeting calendar of parliamentary activities for the next few months. Accordingly, the next part-session will take place in Brussels from Wednesday (1 April) afternoon to Thursday (2 April) morning. Administrative staff have been tasked with rolling out technology that will “facilitate the remote participation” of MEPs during the prolonged period of remote working brought on as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, documents seen by EURACTIV reveal. For the next sessions in May, June and July, the Parliament has decided on Thursday (19 March) to cancel its Strasbourg sessions and replace them with mini-plenaries in Brussels. On Monday (23 March), the institution has recorded its first death, EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna reports.

As part of their remote working programme, the European Commission has had to make a number of changes as to how employees are able to carry out their work from distance, EURACTIV’s Sam Stolton reports. There have been concerns that the security of internal networks could be compromised with so many employees working remotely, and in this vein, the executive is constantly ‘monitoring’ the situation.

European Commission VP Frans Timmermans went into self-imposed quarantine until 20 March, after a meeting on 6 March with the French secretary of state for ecological transition, Brune Poirson, who tested positive with COVID-19. Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier announced he was tested positive but is well. EU’s former chief diplomat, Javier Solana, is being treated at a Madrid hospital for coronavirus, according to a source close to the Spanish politician. Read more here

Since the beginning of March, the number of European Council meetings, its preparatory bodies and working groups has been reduced, according to the Council’s General Secretariat. Decisions on which meetings to maintain will be taken on a regular basis by the presidency. EU leaders in their first-ever teleconference decided they will, as well as health ministers and interior ministers, consult with one another on a daily basis. A crucial 26-27 March EU summit will be held by videoconference, but confidentiality could prove to be the biggest problem.

The European Central Bank decided on Thursday (12 March) to inject more money into the real economy to combat the economic fallout of coronavirus as markets continue to plunge. To learn more, see here. However, ECB chief Christine Lagarde’s comments on anti-crisis measures caused a spike in Italian bonds yields instead, triggering harsh reactions in Italy.

NATO ambassadors held a regular meeting of the North Atlantic Council on Wednesday (18 March), addressing coronavirus measures being taken by the military to curb its spread. As Europe has become the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, NATO is scaling down its military exercises to avoid a further spread but will continue its missions, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a video news conference on Thursday (19 march). Nevertheless, he said it is expected of allies to maintain defence spending despite the economic impact of the virus outbreak. 

(Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)

LONDON. UK PM Boris Johnson tested positive for coronavirus on Friday (27 March), which makes him one of the first world leaders to contract the virus. Meanwhile, his government blamed a communications mix-up for missing the deadline to join an EU procurement scheme to produce ventilators and other urgently needed medical equipment to combat the coronavirus crisis. The UK Parliament has shut down until 21 April after emergency laws to deal with the coronavirus pandemic were rushed through both Houses and passed into law on Wednesday (25 March). PM Boris Johnson announced a strict lockdown on Monday (23 March) in a televised address, giving police the right to enforce this. Find out more about the situation in the UK here.

DUBLIN. As Ireland’s government announced sweeping new measures on Tuesday (24 March) to clamp down on the spread of the coronavirus in the Republic, postal delivery workers in Ireland will start ‘checking in’ on elderly and vulnerable people amid the COVID-19 outbreak by knocking on doors and checking if those in need require food or medication. Read here for more on Ireland’s situation.

HELSINKI.  On Monday evening (30 March), the Finnish government decided to extend the emergency legislation for a month until 13 May. Restaurants will have to close immediately, while ferries between Finland and Sweden will carry only goods and freight, passenger traffic is terminated. After the National Emergency Supply Agency said the supply of masks would not run out just a week ago, it will now be purchasing an ‘unknown’ amount of protective masks from China. As of Monday (30 March), Finland had diagnosed 1,313 coronavirus infections, an increase of 95 from the day before. The number of deaths is 13. More details on Finland by EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen.

STOCKHOLM. Johan Carlson told Swedish Television in an interview on Sunday (29 March) that the country’s approach to coronavirus was the right, adding that the authorities “remain pretty confident it is the best way to stop the disease from spreading. “At the end of the day, it did not matter how many infections we have,” said Carlson. “That is a cumbersome experiment, locking up people in for four to five months,” he added. As of Monday afternoon (30 March), the number of infections in Sweden had risen to 4028 with 146 deaths. Thus far, the country has had a lenient approach to coronavirus compared to the rest of Europe. To learn more, read EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen reports from the region.

COPENHAGEN. Denmark’s government has told private companies struggling with drastic measures it would cover 75% of employees’ salaries if they promised not to cut staff. The Danish government announced on 13 March it will close its borders until further notice and Copenhagen Police said that any stranded passengers must remain in the airport in order to reduce the coronavirus spread. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)

OSLO. Norway’s coronavirus measures taken by the government were said to be “the most far-reaching measures Norway’s population has ever experienced in peacetime,” according to Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Read more about the situation in Norway and the Arctic Circle here

REYKJAVIK. As of Tuesday (17 March), restaurants and shops remain open and gatherings of more than 100 people have been banned. Iceland is still letting in tourists and not making them go into quarantine. (Pekka Vänttinen | EURACTIV.com)


BALTICS

TALLINN.  Estonia reported its first COVID-19 related death on Wednesday (25 March). After the government declared a state of emergency on 12 March to last until 1 May, it imposed new restrictions on Wednesday (25 March). Gatherings of more than two people are prohibited in public spaces, while people will have to keep a distance of at least two metres between each other. In Tallinn, Tato and Pärnu playgrounds and sports facilities will be closed. From Friday (27 March), shopping malls will be closing, while larger stores, pharmacies and other stores outside the malls may stay open. Restaurants and bars have to close at 10 pm, but the purchase of take-away-meals is still allowed. Read more here.

RIGA. In Latvia, a state of emergency has been in force since Friday (13 March) and will apply until 14 April. While all educational institutions have been closed and will be organising remote teaching, all public events, meetings, processions and pickets with more than 200 participants have also been banned as of Friday. Latvia will stop nearly all foreigners entering the country from Tuesday (17 March), the country’s prime minister said.

VILNIUS. Lithuanian authorities have declared a nationwide quarantine, closed EU internal borders with Poland and Latvia on Monday (16 March) to foreigners (with some exceptions) and are preventing Lithuanian citizens from leaving the country. Find more on the situation in Lithuania here.

Baltic health ministers Tanel Kiik, Ilze Vinkele and Aurelijus Veryga have issued a joint statement on the importance of transnational solidarity and cooperation, confirming mutual assistance in increasing the preparedness of the health care systems. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)

BERLIN. Germany’s federal government and heads of the country’s 16 federal states are set to meet again on Wednesday (1 April) to take stock of the current measures and assess how best to proceed, they will not be advocating for the removal of restrictions. Meanwhile, the country will go into an “unavoidable” recession, according to a report from the German Council of Economic Experts, colloquially known as the “Economic Wisemen”. Read the latest updates from EURACTIV Germany here.

ROME. Italy’s government will extend the restrictive measures currently into force at least until Easter (12 April), Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza said. The government is also preparing another stimulus package for mid-April.  Meantime, President Donald Trump announced in a press conference that the US will send medical equipment and other aid for $100 million to Italy. As of Monday (30 March), the total number of infected people reached 101,739, while the death toll climbs to 11,591, with a daily increase of 812. However, on Monday (30 March) Italy hit a new record of 1590 recovered people in 24 hours.  Read here about the situation in Italy. 

MADRID. Spain reported the largest single-day increase in the number of COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday (31 March), despite health authorities anticipating a slowdown in the rate of infection in the coming days. This has made Spain the second most affected country in the world. As Spain’s Health Emergencies minister, Fernando Simon, had tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday (30 March), the country ground to a halt following a government ban on all non-essential activities to limit the mobility of citizens and avoid the spread of the COVID-19 disease. At a cabinet meeting on Sunday (29 March), the government will approve the “exceptional” measures ahead of the Easter celebrations, known in Spain as Holy Week, that start on 5 April. The new restrictions will be in place until at least 9 April, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported. As of Monday (30 March), Spain had recorded a total of 85,195 COVID-19 cases and 7,340 deaths. For more details on the current situation in Spain, see here.

LISBON. While Portugal’s Prime Minister, António Costa, predicted on Monday (30 March) that, with or without a state of emergency and due to the “success in lowering the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic”, it will be necessary to prolong the measures that have been adopted. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa will be deciding whether Portgual extends its state of emergency, which the government had imposed since midnight on 18 March, with the decree valid until midnight on 2 April. Portugal is in a state of emergency from 19 March until 2 April. Find more info on Portugal here.

ATHENS. At the European Council on Thursday (26 March), Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterated his support for issuing eurobonds to face the coronavirus pandemic, saying the nine countries which signed a letter calling for them account for 57% of the eurozone’s GDP. Labour unions have lashed out against the Greek government over a wage-reduction provision which stipulates that for a 6-month period, all businesses can employ 50% of their employees for two weeks per month, giving them 50% of their wages after Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he “will not allow a frivolous few to undermine the safety of most,” he added, referring to the Greeks who ignored the “stay home” rule. EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopolous has more on the state-of-play in Greece.

NICOSIA. Cyprus reached 75 cases as of Saturday morning (21 March) and is mulling plans to take stricter measures to slow down the pandemic. The Decree of the Minister of Transport for a 14-day ban on flights to Cyprus airports came into force on Saturday (21 March).  A total of 421 people who were abroad and excluded because of the coronavirus pandemic were repatriated on Friday, with another 439 expected on Saturday with three chartered flights from the United Kingdom. In Cyprus, the government has ordered the shutdown of private businesses, including retail stores, nightclubs, hotels, and shopping centres, after closing border crossing points in the north of the country. (Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)

LA VALETTA. Malta has 90 confirmed coronavirus cases up to Saturday (22 March), with a daily increase of 17. All non-essential shops and services are closed starting from Monday (23 March) and also organised public meetings and gatherings are stopped. In what unions have called ‘the darkest day” in the history of national aviation, the Maltese government announced it will close its airspace starting midnight on Friday (20 March), while the international airport will remain open only for cargo flights, humanitarian aid and repatriations, airport authorities told personnel.

VATICAN CITY. The Vatican has reported 5 cases of COVID-19 so far. One of the prelates tested positive lives in the same residence where Pope Francis lives, internal sources told Italian news agency Ansa. Prevention measures were adopted already for people living in the building, the source continued. Meantime, at least 28 priests have died of coronavirus in Northern Italy, Italy’s daily Avvenire reports. Two nunneries have been isolated in Rome, as 59 nuns were tested positive to the virus. All of Pope Francis’ Easter services next month will be held without the faithful attending due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Vatican said on Sunday (15 March), in a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times. Read more here.

WARSAW.  As former European Council President Donald Tusk tested negative to the coronavirus on Monday (30 March), the Senate will be looking into the ‘anticrisis’ bill passed by the lower chamber of the Polish parliament. But as the opposition controls the senate it will likely discard the changes made to the electoral code. During the press conference on Tuesday (24 March), Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced additional restrictions of movement, meaning most social meetings are banned although religious gatherings will still be allowed with a maximum of 5 people. EURACTIV Poland looks into the details.

BUDAPEST. As of Tuesday (31 March) there are 492 cases of coronavirus in Hungary with a death toll of 16. On Tuesday (31 March), the coronavirus task force said “in order to provide credible information to the general public and the press,” the age, sex and underlying health conditions of the deceased will be shared, along with an infection breakdown by county. Hungarian authorities have refused to make information on the geographical spread of the new infections publicly available since 13 March. The Hungarian Parliament approved new emergency powers on Monday (30 March) that will allow the ruling Fidesz party the right to rule by decree, without a set time limit, in a move that prompted an outcry from human rights groups. On Friday (27 March), the government announced the imposition of a curfew starting Saturday (28 March) until 11 April. EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov has more on the country’s crisis response.

PRAGUE.  The ‘smart quarantine’ system, which traces past movement and contacts of positively tested persons to find other infected people,  has been launched in one of the Czech Republic’s regions. However, before the system is launched across the country, the government has extended preventive measures until 11 April, under which all shops, restaurants except for supermarkets, grocery stores and pharmacies are closed. The condition of a Czech patient infected by COVID-19 had improved significantly on Friday (27 March) after he had received the experimental US drug to treat Ebola on Tuesday (24 March). Read more about the situation in the Czech Republic here.

BRATISLAVA. According to an unpublished forecast by the Institute for Public Affairs in Bratislava, the COVID-19 pandemic should reach its peak in Slovakia by the middle of July, the health minister, Marek Krajčí, told Radio Express. During this peak, around 3,1 % of the population (170,000) could be infected by the virus.  Over the weekend, the coalition parties agreed on the first rescue package for firms and self-employed people amounting to €1 billion euro per month, which is approximately 1% of the country’s annual economic output. Measures are aimed at those entrepreneurs that had to suspend their operations due to the crisis or those whose income has dropped substantially provided they will not let their employees go. Read here for the latest on Slovakia.

ZAGREB. Croatia has been conducting more tests lately as they’re facing a more advanced stage of the battle against the virus, and thus far 5,900 samples have been tested. “The current epidemiological situation is satisfactory,” announced the health minister Vili Beroš at a press conference. As of Monday (30 March), Croatia had 790 confirmed cases of coronavirus, six have died, and 64 have successfully recovered. A plane from Shanghai landed in Zagreb on Sunday (29 March), carrying 13 tonnes of protective equipment which will be distributed to medical institutions and other services who are fighting on the first line of the pandemic. The police have confirmed that 928 people have been violating the orders of self-isolation, and they will be punished accordingly. Read more.

SOFIA. Bulgaria will buy 1.17 million protective masks worth €1.4 million and 50 ventilators worth €1.5 million from China, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has said. The state will pay 60% of the salaries for media outlets that have been forced to cut staff due to the crisis. Bulgarian authorities banned entry into Turkey on Wednesday (25 March) for transit trucks from 67 countries, as part of the COVID-19 state of emergency, which resulted in a 40-kilometre-long queue of trucks. As of Monday (30 March), Bulgaria had 358 confirmed cases of coronavirus and eight deaths. EURACTIV Bulgaria’s Krassen Nikolov has more details.

BUCHAREST.  The northeastern Romanian city of Suceava is the first city to have been put under total quarantine along with its localities around it on Monday (30 March) as more of a quarter of the country’s COVID-19 infections are located there.  The county hospital was closed last week after more than 100 of its personnel were found to be positive. Besides, Romanian authorities had announced two-week extensions to bans on flights to and from Italy and Spain. The new health minister, Nelu Tataru, told a TV news station that authorities foresee a peak in cases by the second half of April with more than 10,000 cases. As of Tuesday (31 March), Romania reported 2,245 COVID-19 infections with 72 deaths. EURACTIV Romania’s Bogdan Neagu has more.

LJUBLJANA. Slovenia enforced a ban on all kinds of public gatherings from midnight on Friday (20 March), with only essential trips outside allowed, including work or going to the nearest shop, pharmacy or doctor. Violations will entail a €400 fine. While Slovenia remains “in control of the situation”, the pandemic is yet to peak the government expects the increase of the newly infected cases in the following days, said Health Minister Tomaž Gantar, adding that “we are no longer witnessing the exponential growth of the infection, as our curve now looks more linear”. As of Monday (30 March), there are 756 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which is 62 more than yesterday, as well as 11 deaths. So far, 115 patients have been hospitalised, 28 of which are currently in intensive care. EURACTIV’s Željko Trkaniec and Tea Trubić Macan have more.

BELGRADE. As of Monday (30 March), there were 785 positive cases of coronavirus, while the death toll has risen to 16. The national reference laboratory in Belgrade tested 3,084 people so far. If the population does not change its behaviour, a 24-hour curfew will be imposed, even immediately, said President Aleksandar Vucic on Sunday evening (29 March). The EU has activated a package worth €410 million to support the Balkans in its fight against the coronavirus, the European Commission reported. Serbian authorities decided on Saturday (28 March) to prolong the mandatory self-isolation period from 14 to 28 days and to extend the curfew on the weekends from 3 pm to 5 am, starting from 29 March. EURACTIV Serbia gives you the latest about the situation in the country here.

TIRANA.  Tirana announced that, as of Saturday (14 March), it will ban travel to and from Greece to halt the spread of coronavirus in Albania. Prime Minister Edi Rama warned those coming from countries affected by the coronavirus will be fined if they do not go into self-isolation. While all educational institutions will be closed until 3 April, the police have closed over 500 cafes, nightclubs, gyms and live music venues on the orders of the government. (Tea Trubić Macan; Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

SARAJEVO. As Bosnia and Herzegovina had 354 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths and 17 recoveries as of Monday (30 March), the curfew that bans freedom of movement between 8 pm and 5 am is still in place and since Monday, Sarajevo airport has been closed for public transport. While the Republic of Srpska parliament had declared a state of emergency on Saturday without having yet implemented any measures, the crisis guard had issued the decision that all citizens leaving the house were required to wear protective masks. The virus has been spreading uncontrollably across the country due to irresponsible acts of hospital staff in the city of Mostar, which allowed the entrance of a coronavirus positive patient to the respiratory department of the hospital, severely compromising further people. You can find more information on Bosnia here

PODGORICA. The government dismissed as ‘fake news’ reports by some news websites in Serbia that the Montenegrin government has been planning to declare a state of emergency as a pretext to stop mass protests organised by the Serbian Orthodox Chuch against the new law on religious freedoms and church assets in the country. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

PRIŠTINA. Kosovar President Hashim Thaci signed into a law a decree declaring the state of emergency on Tuesday (17 March). The cabinet quickly reacted, as the deputy PM, Haki Abazi, has said that PM Albin Kurti does not agree with the president’s stance and that he had been informed during a Council meeting the day before. The state of emergency decision needs to be passed by the Kosovo Assembly with a two-thirds majority. (EURACTIV.rs betabriefing.com)

SKOPJE. In a cabinet meeting on Saturday evening, the government decided to impose a curfew starting Sunday (22 March) between 9 pm and 6 am. This was announced by PM Oliver Spasovski in a Facebook post.

As of Tuesday morning (31 March), worldwide cases of COVID-19 have now reached 786,228 with 37,820 confirmed deaths, according to the latest figures on the Johns Hopkins University global dashboard.

Europe is now the world centre for the coronavirus outbreak, according to the WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. In a press briefing at WHO headquarters, he said that Europe had more cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined apart from China.

In Europe alone, there are 359,102 reported cases with 23,461 deaths as of Friday (27 March), according to numbers by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

World markets experienced their worst day in decades on Thursday (12 March) as fears of a worldwide recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic wiped trillions off valuations. Read on for more information.

Thousands of tourists were stranded in Morocco on Saturday (14 March) after the kingdom suddenly announced strict border restrictions in response to the coronavirus, leaving travellers stuck at borders, ports and airports. Rabat had already suspended air, sea and land links with European countries and Algeria on Friday (13 March), with the limitation of France announcing that it had agreed to allow repatriation flights for French nationals.

All travellers arriving in Israel must go into self-quarantine for two weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday evening (9 March). According to the Ministry of Health, with more than 26,000 citizens in quarantine, including nearly 2,500 medical officials. The government approved the tracking of cellphones by the Shin Bet security service in order to inform people who were unwittingly close to someone diagnosed with the virus during the two weeks prior to the diagnosis, bypassing the necessary approval from the Knesset, Hareetz reports.

Satellite photos over Iran show the coronavirus crisis in the country is likely much worse than its government is letting on, showing two large burial trenches recently dug at a cemetery outside Qom, Iran’s religious capital, visible from outer space. The country has more than 24,800 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday (25 March) and killed 1,934 so far, according to official figures, but experts suggest there may be many more. Iranian President Rouhani, meanwhile, has announced that the travel restrictions and the command to stay at home will remain in effect for another two to three weeks

Saudi Arabia has put the Qatif region, a Shiite-minority stronghold, on lockdown over coronavirus, with locals saying the actions represents discrimination by the Sunni-majority government.

Iraq is extending the suspension of commercial trade through its land borders with Iran and Kuwait effective Sunday “until further notice” amidst coronavirus fears, Iraq’s Border Ports Commission (BPC) announced on Saturday (14 March).

In the United States, at least 83,545 cases were detected as of Friday (27 March) with a death toll of more than 1,200, which leaves the country lead the global count of confirmed cases, before China and Italy. In a rare pivot to seriousness, which contrasted sharply with some of his previous comments on the pandemic, Trump on Monday (16 March) unveiled a 15-day plan to try to flatten the curve of new infections. Meanwhile, the US Congress agreed to an unprecedented $2,000 billion economic support plan, about one tenth of the US total economic output, to cope with the consequences of the pandemic. Travel restrictions into the US went into effect as of Friday (13 March), including a trans-Atlantic travel ban from Europe’s Schengen area, which has left European officials furious as they fear will wound economies already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. 

So far, Russia has registered 658 cases and no deaths as of Wednesday (25 March) in what experts say is a largely underestimated number. Although far lower than other European countries, figures of infections have spiked over the past week and more than doubled over the past 4 days. Moscow ordered all its elderly people to remain at home for the next three weeks and closed its border with Belarus, one of the country’s last open land borders, as the government rolled out a new series of measures to combat further virus spread. Russia’s land borders to foreigners from Poland (the enclave of Kaliningrad), China and Norway were already closed earlier, while the number of flights to and from the EU has been reduced. The Russian government announced a “high alert” status for all 85 of its regions, requiring the whole country to take anti-coronavirus measures such as banning large gatherings, moving schools to online classes and encouraging working from home.

The total number of cases in China rose to 81,218, of which 
3,281 people died as of Wednesday (25 March), according to numbers reported by the National Health Commission, with the lowest figures in weeks, showing a trend of a slow stabilisation. China’s new infections could soon reach zero for the first time in months, experts believe, but warn it is not excluded that there might be a second wave. Chinese internet giant Alibaba is sending 2 million face masks to Europe via Liège airport, where almost 500,000 mouth masks and other medical equipment such as test kits onboard arrived on Friday (13 March). More, flights will follow the following days. The Alibaba Foundation and the Jack Ma Foundation announced a donation of 500,000 test kits to the US, after they had previously made similar donations to Japan, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Spain.

Quarantine measures are being tightened again in Hong Kong, fearing a second outbreak of the coronavirus. Civil servants have to work from home again, companies are asked to let their employees work from home as much as possible, schools stay closed longer, and exams are postponed in universities. Measures in the country eased slightly after the outbreak of the virus appeared to be under control. 

India has closed the Taj Mahal, its top tourist site. The financial hub of Mumbai has also ordered offices providing non-essential services to function at 50% staffing levels as efforts to control the spread of coronavirus in South Asia ramped up.

South Korea, which was hit by the disease at about the same time as Italy, quarantined only a few thousand, of whom 67 people died, compared to Italy which had millions on lockdown and a death toll that has now surpassed the 1,000-mark. For background on the disparity, see here.

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