U.N. warns of 'dire' effects of coronavirus, 'greatest test' since WWII

(Reuters) – The United Nations warned of potentially “dire” long-term effects of the coronavirus outbreak on countries and the global economy and called for greater international cooperation to fight the pandemic.

“COVID-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as he launched a report this week to address responses to the crisis. The U.N. was founded 75 years ago, after World War Two.

The U.N. report appealed to countries to follow the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines and for an immediate health response to curb the spread of the virus, including stepping up testing, quarantine and treatment.

“We are still very far from where we need to be to effectively fight the COVID-19 worldwide and to be able to tackle the negative impacts,” Guterres told reporters at a virtual news conference.

Guterres said he was particularly concerned for Africa and urged developed countries to do more for less prepared nations.

“Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world,” Guterres said.

The report also called for a multilateral response amounting to at least 10% of global gross domestic product.

Over 878,000 people worldwide have been infected with the novel coronavirus and over 43,000 people have died, according to Reuters data.

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Three out of four Americans under virus lockdown

About three out of four Americans are now, or about to be, under some form of lockdown, as more states tighten measures to fight the coronavirus.

Maryland, Virginia, Arizona and Tennessee became the latest states to order citizens to stay at home, meaning 32 of 50 states have taken such steps.

Meanwhile governors are quarrelling with President Donald Trump about the availability of testing kits.

The US has more than 163,000 confirmed virus cases and over 3,000 deaths.

It surpassed Italy last week as the country with the highest number of people suffering from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

New York City is the worst-hit place in America, with 914 confirmed fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University.

How many Americans are affected by lockdown?

Some 245 million people are already under orders to stay at home, or facing such orders which come into effect later on Tuesday.

Almost two-thirds of states have issued directives for their citizens to stay put, while the remaining states have localised orders in effect.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, who has been reluctant to impose a state-wide order, said he would instruct people in four counties in the south – where more than half the state’s cases of the virus exist – to stay at home. He said this would last until at least the middle of May.

In general, the “lockdowns” allow people to only go out to get essential supplies and medicines, or limited forms of exercise.

The economic consequences have been profound, with millions of people having lost their jobs.

According to an estimate of the Federal Reserve, the US central bank, 47 million people could be out of work in the coming months, with the US still weeks away from the peak of infections.

What are governors and the presidents disagreeing about?

According to the New York Times, President Trump and state governors held a conference call on Monday in which Mr Trump suggested there was no longer a lack of kits to test people for Covid-19.

In an audio recording obtained by the newspaper, Mr Trump says he has not “heard about testing in weeks.

“We’ve tested more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests and we’re coming out with a faster one this week… I haven’t heard about testing being a problem,” he says.

However, Montana Governor Steve Bullock is heard to say his state does not have adequate numbers of kits.

“Literally, we are one day away, if we don’t get test kits from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], that we wouldn’t be able to do testing in Montana,” he says.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee told the Times he was taken aback by Mr Trump’s assertion.

“It would be shocking to me that if anyone who has had access to any newspaper, radio, social networks, or any other communication would not be knowledgeable about the need for test kits.

“I can be assured that the White House knows very well about this desperate need for test kits,” the newspaper quotes him as saying.

Earlier, the president said the US would be in “a very good shape” in terms of the number of ventilators available by the time the coronavirus outbreak peaks.

The president said at least 10 US companies were now making the medical devices, and some might be exported.

The virus can cause severe respiratory issues as it attacks the lungs, and ventilators help keep patients breathing. Several state and local officials have warned hospitals are at risk of running out of equipment.

Mr Trump has alleged some state governors were “hoarding” critical medical equipment, and that items including face masks were being stolen from hospitals. He has not presented any evidence for either claim.

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Saudis tighten anti-virus curfew, UAE closures leave travellers stranded

RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia reported its second coronavirus death and tightened a nationwide curfew on Wednesday, barring entry to and exit from the capital Riyadh and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as well as movement between all provinces.

The orders, approved by King Salman and published by state media, also brought forward the start of curfew in the three cities to 3 p.m. from 7 p.m., starting on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia introduced the curfew on Monday, initially for 21 days, after registering a jump in infections. Its second fatality was a 46-year-old foreign resident of Mecca, among 133 new cases that took Saudi Arabia’s total to 900.

Across the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, the tally rose to 2,472 with seven deaths, as the United Arab Emirates registered 85 new infections, Oman 15 and Kuwait four.

Saudi Arabia has also halted international flights as well as suspending visas for the year-round Umrah pilgrimage and closing mosques, schools, malls and restaurants.

The restrictions have altered the rhythm of daily life in the country of some 30 million, where late-night gatherings at coffee shops or private homes are common.

Turkish resident Nasif Erisik, who plays cards most nights with friends at one of their homes, said the group had resorted to online gaming to keep in touch: “Corona has … changed our habits and everything in our lives.”

The authorities say they will fine or jail those who violate restrictions. The Interior Ministry on Wednesday reported high compliance.

QUARANTINE BREACHED

But in the UAE, the region’s tourism, business and transit hub, 64 people were facing legal action for not obeying a 14-day home quarantine order after coming into contact with people confirmed to be infected, the government tweeted.

Hundreds of Europeans were stranded in the UAE after Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports stopped flights on Tuesday night with little warning.

Oil engineer Jamie Richardson had been due to return to Britain on Wednesday for a new job. “It’s proper stressful,” he said. “You have no idea what’s going on.”

UAE authorities have urged people to stay home but not announced an official curfew or suspended work.

On Wednesday the business regulator in Dubai, one of the member-emirates, told private companies to implement remote working for 80% of staff through April 9.

Pharmacies, grocery stores, supermarkets and cooperative societies were exempted. It later clarified that other sectors, including banking, industrial and manufacturing, construction, logistics and delivery were also exempt.

Food shops were told to stay open 24 hours a day but not exceed 30% customer capacity, to be able to maintain a 2-metre (6-foot) distance between shoppers.

Organisers of the Expo 2020 Dubai world fair, scheduled to start in October and expected to draw 11 million overseas visitors, confirmed one coronavirus case among staff and said they were reviewing their preparations.

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Saudi Arabia imposes curfew to curb coronavirus, UAE halts passenger flights

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will impose a nationwide curfew starting on Monday after reporting a jump of almost a quarter in coronavirus cases, while the United Arab Emirates will suspend all passenger flights as of Wednesday, state media reported.

Saudi King Salman ordered a curfew from 7pm to 6am for 21 days to slow the spread of the virus, state media said. Anyone breaking the curfew will be fined 10,000 riyals ($2,665) and repeat offenders could be sent to jail for up to 20 days, state TV said.

Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Talal Mashhoud told a news conference, during which 51 new infections were announced, that security forces would enforce the curfew and that if needed “military authorities may be called upon”.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has recorded more than 1,800 infections and four deaths from the virus. Saudi Arabia has the most confirmed cases with 562.

The UAE, a major air transit center, said it will halt all passenger and transit flights to and from the country for two weeks, state news agency WAM said. Cargo operations continue.

The country reported 45 new cases among Western, Arab and Asian nationalities, taking its total to 198.

State-owned Emirates, one of the world’s biggest long-haul airlines, earlier said it would stop passenger operations this week, except for repatriation flights to several countries.

The UAE will close malls starting on Wednesday, leaving open pharmacies, supermarkets and wholesale produce providers, WAM reported, adding that delivery services are exempt. Dubai said it would shut food establishments from Monday.

The UAE urged people to stay home but has yet to announce a suspension of work in the public and private sectors. The central bank, other ministries and government departments said they are asking staff to work remotely.

The region has expanded measures to combat the spread of the disease. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were the first to take drastic steps including halting international flights, suspending work at most institutions and closing public venues.

Saudi Commerce Ministry spokesman Abdulrahman al-Hussein told the news conference that pharmacies, supermarkets and restaurants would offer delivery services during the curfew.

Kuwait said on Monday it would issue expatriate teachers exit permits. State news agency KUNA later said EgyptAir would operate a daily flight to Cairo for a week starting on Wednesday for Egyptian residents who wish to leave.

Qatar’s health ministry called for volunteers to staff medical facilities to “ease the strain on resources” in the tiny country which has 494 cases, mostly among migrant workers.

In the UAE, where expatriates also make up most of the population, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan suspended rent evictions for two months, state media said.

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