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: The Netherlands extends ‘intelligent lockdown’ until 28 April / Hungary makes info on geographical spread of new infections publicly available / Italy extends country-wide lockdown until 13 April / Spain registered highest death toll on Wednesday


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.

FOOD SAFETY: Although coronavirus can survive on surfaces for a limited time, food safety regulations in EU member states ensure a high level of protection against contaminated food, said the chief of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Bernhard Url in an interview.

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.

CLINICAL TRIALS: Clinical trials investigating the efficacy of using the rheumatoid arthritis drug, Kevzara, in patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19 have now been expanded to include the EU. Natasha Foote reports.

BETTER PREPAREDNESS: Health, global security and international stability are inextricably linked. And our globalised, urbanised and at the same time, the politically fragmented world has never been as prone to pandemics as it is today. Wolfgang Ischinger and Stefan Oschmann present five points that are critical in order to be better prepared for situations like these in the future.

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.

The European Commission has announced that it has set up a €100 billion solidarity instrument to help workers keep their incomes and help businesses stay afloat, called SURE. It has also proposed redirecting all available structural funds to the response to the coronavirus outbreak.

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. Meanwhile, 87% of the Irish public would be happy for their personal data and medical records to be used under public health emergency crises, according to a study published on Wednesday (1 April) by the Irish Computer Society. Read here for more on Ireland’s situation.

HELSINKI.  Finnish authorities and politicians are now considering whether to completely shut off the border with Sweden, as both countries have been taking wildly different approaches to the COVID-19 health crisis. 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. As of Wednesday (1 April), Finland had diagnosed 1,446 coronavirus infections with 17 deaths. 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. German economic minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) has warned citizens that the country “will again experience a recession at the beginning of this year” in a press conference on Thursday (2 April). Germany’s social-distancing restrictions will continue until at least 19 April, the government announced on Wednesday (1 April) after a teleconference between the government and heads of the German Lander. While Germany’s conservative health minister, Jens Spahn (CDU) told a press conference on Tuesday (31 March) that he was in favour of location tracking smartphones to stop the spread of COVID-19, the federal infectious disease research agency known as the Robert Koch Institute is already working on an app to that effect. Read the latest updates from EURACTIV Germany here.

ROME. On Tuesday (1 April), Italy’s government has issued a new decree to extend the current lockdown in force in the country until 13 April. “If we started to ease the measures, all the efforts would be in vain,” explained prime minister Giuseppe Conte in a press conference. For Conte, Italy is still in the first stage of the fight against the virus. “Only when experts will agree, we’ll enter the second stage, meaning living with the virus, and then the third stage, the return to normal,” he added. As of Tuesday (1 April), the total number of infected people reached 110,574, while the death toll climbed to 13,155, with a daily increase of 727. Read here about the situation in Italy. 

MADRID.  In what are “expected figures”, Spain registered its highest daily death toll on Wednesday (1 April) as 864 people had died and 7,719 new patients were tested positive. While Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska reminded that these “fatalities were people who had been infected the confinement measures had come into force,” the head of Spain’s centre for Health Emergencies, Fernando Simón said that with “ICU admissions decreasing,” the health system will attempt to ensure treatment is offered to everyone. As of Wednesday (1 April), Spain had recorded a total of 102,136 COVID-19 cases and 9,053 deaths and 22,646 recoveries. For more details on the current situation in Spain, see here.

LISBON. Portugal’s government approved President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa’s proposed decree on Wednesday (1 April) to renew the state of emergency for another 15 days. In other news, Portuguese flag carrier TAP is to temporarily lay off 90% of its employees and reduce the normal working period by 20% for those remaining as the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis have impacted the company quite severely. As the number of total COVID-19 infections reached 7,443 with 160 deaths as of Tuesday (31 March). 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.  On Wednesday (1 April), the ruling conservative PiS party introduced new electoral rules as a draft ahead of the presidential elections in May. If approved, it will enter into force next week and ensure every citizen is able to vote by mail. 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. While the coronavirus task force had announced on Tuesday (31 March) that information regarding age, sex and underlying health conditions will be made public, authorities made information on the geographical spread of the new infections publicly available for the first time 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. As of Wednesday (1 April), Hungary had 525 confirmed COVID-19 cases, while Budapest was the most-affected region with 232 cases. 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. One of the options on how to “kill the virus” is to “turn down the country for three weeks”, Prime Minister Igor Matovič (OĽaNO) told a press briefing, adding that to do this there would not only have to be about 150,000 people working to support the state infrastructure but also a common understanding and agreement in society. A 60-year-old man, who was positively tested for the coronavirus, died shortly after leaving the hospital. Two persons died with COVID-19 so far, however, health authorities didn’t count them as victims of the virus, attributing their deaths to other conditions. Read here for the latest on Slovakia.

ZAGREB. Croatian PM Andrej Plenković has presented the second economic relief package tailored for entrepreneurs who are struggling amid the coronavirus crisis and taking account of the criticisms from the private sector. Meanwhile, the country has also reached the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the country’s civic guard expects the numbers of newly infected patients to start dropping during the next week.  As of Wednesday (1 April), Croatia has a total of 963 confirmed COVID-19 cases, which is 96 more than the day before. Read more.

SOFIA. The Bulgarian authorities extended on Wednesday the COVID-19 state of emergency until 13 May. The decision must be approved by Parliament. 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. As of Wednesday (1 April), Bulgaria had 422 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 10 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 Wednesday (1 April), Romania reported 2,460 COVID-19 infections with 86 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 Wednesday (31 March), there are 841 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which is 39 more than the day before, as well as 15 deaths. So far, 119 patients have been hospitalised, 31 of which are currently in intensive care. EURACTIV’s Željko Trkaniec and Tea Trubić Macan have more.

BELGRADE. On 31 March, Serbian Minister of Finance Sinisa Mali announced that the government had prepared a €5.1 billion aid package for helping businesses and citizens during the state of emergency and virus epidemic and that the package equalled 11% of this year’s GDP. After users of the state-owned MTS mobile provider had received a text urging them to stay home as “we are getting close to the Italian and Spanish scenario,” the government told RTS TV that the news was not accurate and would have needed to be disclosed to the public 48 hours before. Interior Minister Nebosja Stefanovic had tweeted that the government was looking for the person behind the message. As of Wednesday (1 April), there were 1,060 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 28 deaths with 14,371 people tested. 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. With over 150 infected citizens, the epicentre of the virus has become Banja Luka, the capital of the Republic of Srpska. Local authorities have decided to maintain strict restrictions to movement and social contact until at least 13 April, with those older than 65 and younger than 18 being advised to stay home. Elsewhere across the republic, however, people over 65 are forbidden to leave their homes, something which has been severely criticised for being unconstitutional, as authorities have not organised the delivery of food, medicines or pensions for that age group. Bosnia and Herzegovina had 455 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 13 deaths and 19 recoveries as of Wednesday (1 April). You can find more information on Bosnia and Herzegovina 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 Thursday (2 April), worldwide cases of COVID-19 have now reached 937,567 with 47,256 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 455,901 reported cases with 32,778 deaths as of Thursday (1 April), 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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