Italy extends coronavirus lockdown to whole country as new cases surge

ROME (Reuters) – The whole of Italy will be placed under lockdown until next month, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Monday, in an unprecedented and unexpected new attempt to beat coronavirus in Europe’s worst-affected country.

Conte told reporters that measures introduced just two days ago in much of the north were no longer sufficient after a jump in deaths tied to the highly infectious disease, and said the entire nation had to make sacrifices to stop its spread.

“The right decision today is to stay at home. Our future and the future of Italy is in our hands. These hands have to be more responsible today than ever before,” Conte said, adding that the norms would come into force on Tuesday.

Italy’s 60 million people will only be able to travel for work, medical reasons or emergencies until April 3. All schools and universities, which were closed nationwide last week until March 15, will now not reopen before next month.

The contagion only came to light near Italy’s financial capital Milan on Feb. 21. Since then there have been some 9,172 confirmed cases and 463 deaths, putting the national health system under massive strain.

Conte said all outdoor public gatherings would be forbidden and announced that all sports events, including top flight Serie A soccer matches, would be suspended, throwing the closely watched championship into disarray.

“We don’t have any time. The numbers are showing that there has been a significant growth in infections, people in intensive care and deaths,” he said in a somber address. “Our habits have to change right now. We must give things up for Italy.”

Struggling to contain the outbreak, Italy imposed strict controls on travel from the northern region of Lombardy and parts of neighboring Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna on Sunday. Those restrictions were now being extended so the same rules would govern the whole country, Conte said.

The government has already ordered cinemas, theaters and museums to close and told shops and restaurants to ensure that patrons remained at least a meter (yard) apart.

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All restaurants and bars will now have to close at 6 p.m. (1700 GMT) and all Alpine ski resorts must shut. However, public transport would remain operational throughout Italy.

JAIL RIOT

The curbs announced at the weekend had already taken their toll on Milan, with its streets much quieter than normal on Monday and many smaller shops and cafes closed. Even among those left open, most remained empty.

“There’s been nobody at all. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said a shop assistant at the Rinascente department store in the city center.

The most dramatic knock-on effect from the coronavirus crisis was seen in Italy’s overcrowded prisons where inmates rioted in jails across the country after visiting rights were cut to fight the virus. Seven inmates died in the chaos, which started at the weekend, the justice ministry said.

With the country already on the brink of recession, the government’s steps have come at a huge cost for the eurozone’s third-largest economy, which also has the bloc’s second-biggest debt pile after Greece.

The Milan bourse, which was down some 17% since the outbreak in northern Italy, lost a further 11% on Monday, underperforming its regional peers.

News that the lockdown would be extended to the whole nation was made after markets had closed and could trigger fresh selling, raising the specter of past crises, with Italy’s cost of borrowing already significantly higher than a week ago.

Government bond yields rose sharply on Monday, pushing the gap between Italy and benchmark German 10-year bond yields above 200 basis points for the first time since August 2019.

The government has already promised 7.5 billion euros ($8.57 billion) to alleviate the economic impact of the crisis, but Conte indicated that more money would be needed.

A government source said the Treasury was considering lifting the budget deficit to 2.8% of national output this year. It only announced last week that it planned to hike the deficit to 2.5% from a previous goal of 2.2%.

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White House looks to bolster economy as coronavirus worries batter markets

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration scrambled on Monday to assure Americans it was responding to a growing coronavirus outbreak as stock markets plunged and top health officials urged some people to avoid cruise ships, air travel and big public gatherings.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly played down the threat posed by the flu-like virus sweeping the globe, was planning to meet with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other members of his economic team to weigh possible action, an administration official told Reuters.

Paid sick leave is among policy steps being considered, the official said on condition of anonymity.

One camp in the White House, which includes Trump, backs an across-the-board payroll tax cut, said an economist advising the administration, while top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow and others advocate specific tax credits, loans or direct subsidies to certain industries or hard-hit areas.

A payroll tax cut could encourage consumer spending and help households that might otherwise struggle to make rent and mortgage payments on time or pay medical bills if family members’ work hours are reduced during a coronavirus outbreak.

Senate Finance Committee Chuck Grassley, a Republican, told reporters that a range of options for responding to the crisis are being explored in his tax-writing committee.

Florida health officials said everyone returning from China, Iran, South Korea and Italy must isolate for 14 days while travelers from other countries affected by the outbreak should monitor their health.

The number of confirmed U.S. cases reached 566, including 22 deaths, according to state public health authorities and a running national tally kept by the Johns Hopkins University.

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Thirty-four U.S. states and the District of Columbia have reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) infections of the respiratory illness COVID-19 that can lead to pneumonia. Louisiana had the state’s first presumed coronavirus case, Governor John Bel Edwards announced on Monday.

As worries over the virus deepened, the Dow fell a record 2,000 points when trading opened and the S&P 500 posted its largest single-day percentage drop since December 2008, the depths of the financial crisis. A plunge in oil prices contributed to fears of a looming recession.

Trump, who often points to the stock market as a gauge of his economic record, criticized news media organizations’ coverage of the outbreak in a tweet and accused Democrats of hyping the situation “far beyond what the facts would warrant.”

The CDC advised colleges and universities to consider asking students studying abroad to return home and cancel or postpone upcoming travel.

Several U.S. universities were either moving to virtual instruction or considering the step and limiting gatherings on their campuses.

Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, and other health officials say older Americans, especially those with chronic medical concerns, should avoid big social gatherings, cruise ships and airline flights.

Warnings from Fauci and others about the need for greater “social distancing” – the practice of minimizing unnecessary contact in public settings – came amid a high-profile example of risks now inherent in large gatherings.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Representatives Paul Gosar, Doug Collins and Matt Gaetz have announced that they would self-quarantine after coming in contact at a conservative political conference with an attendee who later tested positive for the virus.

Gaetz traveled with Trump aboard Air Force One on Monday.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading the administration’s overall response to the crisis, also attended the conference. The White House said there was no indication they came into contact with the infected attendee.

CRUISE SHIP

More than 110,000 people have been infected and about 3,800 have died in the outbreak, which originated in China late last year and has spread to at least 105 countries and territories. Italy, which has the second-highest death toll, said it was extending to the rest of the country restrictions on movement imposed on much of its wealthy industrial north in an effort to contain spread of the virus.

The hardest-hit place in the United States has been a nursing home in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, and Washington state is considering mandatory measures such as banning large gatherings but not necessarily imposing massive quarantines.

The Life Care Center facility has accounted for most of the 18 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths in Washington state.

In California, officials planned to offload 2,400 passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship, which was barred from returning to San Francisco last week due to a coronavirus outbreak on board.

Most of the passengers will go into quarantine at four military bases across the country, with those requiring immediate medical attention heading to hospitals. The crew of 1,100 will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, unless they are in need of acute care off the vessel.

California has more than 100 confirmed cases, while on the East Coast, cases in New York state rose to 142, up from 105 a day earlier, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.

One of them was Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that controls airports and other major travel hubs. He will be quarantined and work from home, Cuomo said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio asked employers in the nation’s most populous city to consider staggering workers’ start times to ease crowding on public transport and to allow more telecommuting where possible. De Blasio said there were 20 confirmed cases there as of Monday afternoon.

(Graphic: Tracking the spread of the novel coronavirus – here)

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Coronavirus: B.C. university launches virtual tours amid growing COVID-19 fears

A B.C. Christian university is going virtual in a bid to keep its annual spring recruiting weekend on track amid growing COVID-19 fears.

“We are making lemonade out of lemons,” said Scott Fehrenbacher, senior vice-president of external relations for Trinity Western University (TWU).

Fehrehnbacher said the weekend usually attracts would-be students from all over North America and the globe to tour the campus, meet staff and get a sense of life at TWU.

But he said this year they are hearing concern from American students who would need to transit through COVID-19 hotspot Seattle, and international students who are nervous about transiting airports.

“We don’t expect that to go down in the next two weeks,” he said.

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Ireland announces 3 billion euro package to fight coronavirus

DUBLIN, March 9 (Reuters) – Ireland will set aside 3 billion euros ($3.44 billion) to provide additional funding to the health service, boost workers’ sick pay and offer liquidity assistance to businesses affected by the coronavirus, the government said on Monday.

A package that could cost up to 2.4 billion euros was agreed to increase illness benefits so that all workers can abide by medical advice if they need to self-isolate, while the health department will be given an additional 435 million euros this year to “deal with a population impact over the coming months”.

An initial package for business will include 200 million euros in liquidity support for impacted firms, funding that acting Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said was set aside for a “no deal Brexit” last year but would now be re-purposed.

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Coronavirus sets off stock market and oil price crash – what it means for you

The stock exchange collapsed when it opened on Monday morning – as more bad news about coronavirus coupled with the fallout from an argument between Russia and Saudi Arabia over oil prices.

The result was one of the biggest one-day falls in the price of a barrel of oil for 20 years, while the FTSE 100 index of the UK's biggest companies had billions wiped off its value.

Ayush Ansal, chief investment officer at Crimson Black Capital, said: "The markets have passed from panic mode into pure hysteria… Any positive news around the coronavirus is being ignored outright, while negative developments are being catastrophised."

Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank, added: “Russia punched investors in the face…Oil crashed more than 30% on Monday open, the most since 1991. WTI crude collapsed below $30 a barrel on huge investor deception. Brent fell to $31. Equity markets kicked off the week with a colossal sell-off, as well."


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Russ Mould, AJ Bell investment director, laid out just how bad the sell off in shares became.

“By 9am the FTSE was trading 7.1% lower at 6,004 which put the index back to the levels seen before the EU referendum vote in early 2016," he said.

“The index initially fell to 5,899 on Monday, representing an 8.7% decline which is the fourth biggest one-day fall on record."

But while traders panic, there is actually some good news to be had for the man on the street – even as headlines scream of bear markets and black Mondays.

The first thing to note is that a falling oil price – while it might be bad news for countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia and companies like Shell – is generally a good thing.


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" A weak oil price is good news for more countries and industries than it is bad," Mould said.

That's because as well as making it cheaper to fill up your car, it also makes it cheaper for everyone else to move goods about the country and internationally.

Everything from shipping costs to get goods to the supermarket to energy bills for the people manufacturing products fall – leading to cheaper prices and more money for people and businesses to spend elsewhere.

And it's more than just a theoretical position – history has proved it time and time again.

"Since 1970 there have been three instances when oil has fallen by 50% year-on-year or more. On each occasion (1986, 2008-09, 2015-16) global GDP growth rates improved," Mould said.

As well as improved economic growth, there are real impacts on people's budgets too – although they take a little while to filter through.


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Will Owen, energy expert at Uswitch.com , explained: “The oil price crash could be good news for consumers, who may see a knock-on effect of reduced household gas and electricity prices if this situation continues.

“But any impact will take time to work its way through to bills, especially for consumers who are on fixed-rate deals.”

Petrol prices should fall faster, though – dropping by as much as 10p a litre in the coming weeks.

RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams told Mirror Money: "We expect the big supermarkets who sell the lion’s share of fuel to lead the way with some swift and significant cuts in the next few days."


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There's even reason to hope for people who have money invested in the stock market – either directly or through their pensions.

That's because while coronavirus is scaring people, it won't last forever and there were positive signs of growth before it spooked traders.

Rupert Thompson, chief investment officer at Kingswood, said: “We remain very much of the opinion that unless you have a very short-term horizon or are particularly risk-averse, you should not now sell equities.

"While a global recession is now possible, we believe it should be a relatively short-lived affair and that economic activity should recover again in the second half of the year. If so, markets should also recapture much of their recent losses later this year."

He added: " In fact, the latest panic makes us more, rather than less, inclined to buy equities."

Sacha Chorley, portfolio manager at Quilter Investors, added: “It may seem a little bleak right now, with markets falling across the board, but this in itself presents investment opportunities.

"Investors need to remember that the economic data was improving before the coronavirus outbreak really took hold, so not all hope is lost, albeit it changes the dynamic a little bit."


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But while the long-term outlook for pensions and shares seems safe despite the crash – it does demonstrate one thing rather well.

As Anthony Morrow, chief executive of OpenMoney, puts it: "Situations like this should remind us all that you should only invest into the stock market if you’re completely comfortable in the risks and in knowing your money should be locked away for a considerable amount of time.

"While it’s difficult to get excited about low the 0.5% interest rates available on cash, it’s vital to make sure you have plenty of savings built up in cash to act as a buffer.

"The implications of investing in the stock market with money you may need in the short term are serious and it’s only in moments like this that people realise the significance of investing for the long term. In today’s world, it’s more important than ever to seek expert advice if you’re looking to invest your money.

"Professional and regulated advice will not only help you understand whether investing is right for you based on your individual circumstances, but it could help guide you during periods of market volatility like this as well. “

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UK preparing further steps to tackle coronavirus, PM Johnson

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is making extensive preparations for additional measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.

Johnson said the country remained in the “contain phase” of the outbreak but that the government was preparing to move to the so-called “delay phase”.

The government will set out further steps in days and weeks ahead to help protect people, particularly the elderly, Johnson said.

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Shopper, 50, tasered after ‘grabbing woman’s throat’ in bog roll brawl

A man was tasered following an alleged bog roll brawl in Australia as the country faces a shortage of toilet paper amid escalating coronavirus fears.

Wayne Ashley Philip, 50, was arrested after the alleged fight at Tamworth Shopping World in New South Wales.

It happened as shoppers across the country hoard toilet paper in fear a coronavirus pandemic could keep them effectively imprisoned in their home.

Officers claim Philip threw a box issues at a Big W worker and grab a woman by the throat around 10am on Thursday.

Police prosecutor sergeant Rob Baillie told local media the “protection of the community was needed”.

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He added: “An unprovoked attack on two people going about their daily lives, in their work.”

But, Philip’s lawyer Edward McMahon told Tamworth Local Court that his client – who has autism – regularly bulk buys toilet paper and grew frustrated amid the coronavirus panic purchases.

He continued: “He’s taken out his frustration in a totally unacceptable way.

“Philip is a man with quite special needs.”

The 50-year-old now faces six charges, including hitting two women and two officers as well as resisting police.

He was tasered before being apprehended.

Philip, who has numerous medical conditions including a mild intellectual disability, was unable to enter a plea on Friday.

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Sergeant Baillie later added: “It’s a fine balancing act between the needs of a man who clearly has some disabilities against the protection of the community.

“This is a man that needs some more structure.”

Philip will return to court on March 16.

Meanwhile in the UK, supermarkets have started to ration toilet paper, pasta and calpol amid the the coronavirus outbreak.

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Workers in China cautiously return to the office as new cases of coronavirus fall

Riding the subway for the first time after weeks of working remotely from home, Zhuang Xue felt a sense of calm, outfitted in a blue surgical mask and protective goggles as she headed for the office.

The 29-year-old purchasing agent joined other office workers finally allowed back to their cubicles on Monday in Beijing, where virtually no new COVID-19 cases have been reported in recent days.

Authorities extended the Lunar New Year holiday that began in late January, ordering most workers in the city to stay home to help curb the spread of the virus that has infected more than 110,000 people worldwide, most of them in China.

Zhang, her goggles fogged up in the morning chill as she left the subway station, said she had been preparing for this moment for weeks, exercising at home and trying to eat as healthily as possible to strengthen her immune system. She was carrying disinfectant wipes and a personal water bottle.

“Everyone is pretty conscientious,” Zhang said.

It’s not exactly life as usual, though. Fearing a resurgence in cases, the government is taking a gradual approach.

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British Airways and EasyJet to cancel flights to Italy as coronavirus cases soar

UK-based airlines British Airways and EasyJet have announced they are reducing their flights to northern Italy as the deadly coronavirus grips the country.

The two major airlines are cancelling flights to the north of Italy after the UK Foreign Office warned against travel to the Lombardy region – including Milan.

The area Brits have, as of this morning, been urged not to fly to by the government include 14 provinces such as Modena, Parma, Rimini and Venice.

The official advice states: “Otherwise entry into and exit from these areas is forbidden without official permission on the grounds of strict necessity.

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“The authorities have confirmed to us that this will be granted for reasons such as medical need or work requirements.”

The Italian authorities also at the weekend ordered a virtual lockdown of the area, with museums closed, streets and shops empty, and weddings and funerals banned.

Italy has so far seen 366 deaths from the coronavirus with more than 7,300 cases recorded in the disease-gripped country.

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As a result of the latest developments, EasyJet has said it expects to reduce the number of flights to and from airports int he area, including Milan Malpensa, Milan Linate, Venice and Verona.

The low-cost airline said it expects to reduce these flights until April 3, as a part of a review of its programme.

"We will provide a further update on our schedule in due course," EasyJet said in an emailed statement on Monday.

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British Airways, meanwhile, has already cancelled dozens of flights to northern Italy today, and is set to continue to reduce flights.

"We are also offering customers booked to fly before April 2, the option to change their booking up to another date up to the end of May, or to fly via Zurich or Geneva instead," BA said in a statement.

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South Korean PM says 'turning point' near in coronavirus fight

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean officials warned against prematurely calling the peak of the coronavirus outbreak while expressing hope on Monday that the country was nearing a “turning point” in the crisis, as the pace of new infections trended lower.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 69 new coronavirus cases on Monday, although a more complete figure would be provided in another update later on Monday.

The new cases brought South Korea’s total infections to 7,382, while the death toll rose by one to 51, the KCDC said.

The rate of increase in new infections fell to its lowest in 10 days on Sunday in one of the countries most severely affected outside mainland China.

“I’m still extremely cautious, but there’s hope we can reach a turning point in the near future,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Monday before returning to Seoul from the hard-hit southeastern city of Daegu.

Health authorities say the number of new infections being identified has dwindled as most of the roughly 200,000 followers of a fringe Christian church at the center of the epidemic in Daegu have now been tested.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said it was premature to say the crisis was over, as new cases continued to emerge from smaller clusters.

“There are still many patients arising from Daegu and nearby regions … and sporadic infections continue to emerge elsewhere, though they’re not spreading as fast,” Kim told a briefing.

“In fact, now is the time to concentrate all our capabilities to bring a clear reduction in infections.”

South Korea started rationing surgical masks on Monday after imposing an export ban amid panic buying.

Mutual travel restrictions imposed by South Korea and Japan also took effect, an issue that rekindled a diplomatic and economic feud between the old foes.

South Korea suspended visas and visa waivers for Japan on Friday, after Tokyo announced travel restrictions, joining more than 100 other countries limiting arrivals from South Korea.

The spat, together with oil price swings, sent South Korean shares and the won sharply lower and prompted the finance ministry to issue a verbal warning against disorderly market movement.

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