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Thursday, March 12, 2020, 22:51
EU disapproves of US travel ban as ECB ramps up stimulus
By Agencies
Thursday, March 12, 2020, 22:51 By Agencies

A man wearing face mask walks past a traditional British red phone box near Parliament Square in central London, March 11, 2020. (MATT DUNHAM / AP)

FRANKFURT / SAN SALVADOR / PANAMA CITY / HAVANA / ABIDJAN / STOCKHOLM / SOFIA / DUBLIN / ROME / BERLIN / PARIS / LONDON / GUATEMALA CITY / SAN JOSE / MOSCOW / WASHINGTON / ATHENS / PRAGUE / JOHANNESBURG / OSLO / LJUBLJANA / BRUSSELS - The European Union said on Thursday it disapproved of the US decision to improve a unilateral travel ban on European countries, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel said in a statement.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered travel from Europe to the United States restricted for 30 days. Travel from Britain would not be affected by the ban.

The European Union disapproves of the fact that the US decision to improve a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation

Statement by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel

"The European Union disapproves of the fact that the US decision to improve a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation," the statement reads, adding that the EU is taking "strong" measures to limit the spread of the virus.

On the same day, the European Central Bank approved fresh stimulus measures to help the ailing euro zone economy cope with the shock of the coronavirus pandemic but unexpectedly kept interest rates on hold, a decision that may dismay markets.

With millions of people in lockdown, financial markets in freefall and companies struggling with disrupted supply chains, the ECB said it would give businesses more ultra-cheap loans, raise asset purchases and provide banks with capital relief to cope with the downturn.

“These operations will support bank lending to those affected most by the spread of the coronavirus, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises,” the ECB said in a statement.

“A temporary envelope of additional net asset purchases of 120 billion euros will be added until the end of the year, ensuring a strong contribution from the private sector purchase programmes.”

The ECB said it would offer a previous longer-term refinancing operation at a rate as cheap as minus 0.75 percent and conduct additional longer-term refinancing operations to provide immediate liquidity support to the euro area financial system.

But the deposit rate will stay unchanged at a record low minus 0.5 percent, suggesting policymakers believe it may already be near the so-called reversal rate, where further cuts are counterproductive because they hurt bank margins to the point of thwarting lending.

In London, British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said travel bans, such as the one announced by Trump would have an impact on Britain's economy.

"There will be an impact on the demand side of our economy as people are unable to spend in the way that they normally would and travel, but it also affects supply chains for businesses and that impacts the supply side of our economy," Sunak told BBC radio.

"And if those supply chains are disrupted, the productive capacity of our economy will shrink for a temporary period of time."

Sunak also said that Britain did not see the need for a US-style flying ban as part of its response to the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Sunak said he was ready to do more to help Britain's economy if needed to offset the impact of the spread of coronavirus, a day after he delivered the biggest stimulus budget for nearly 30 years.

ALSO READUK unveils US$39b stimulus, Pope holds virtual audience

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to chair an emergency Cobra committee meeting on Thursday afternoon, at which he is expected to declare that Britain would move to the "delay" phase, the second in Britain's four-step move in response to the spread of the coronavirus, according to reports.

The number of people in the UK who have died from coronavirus rose to eight, health officials said Wednesday. The number of confirmed cases rose to 456, up from 373 a day earlier, according to the health ministry.

In the delay phase, so-called social distancing measures such as school closures, more home working and reducing large scale gathering would be considered, though would not necessarily be approved immediately.

US President Donald Trump speaks in an address to the nation from the Oval Office at the White House about the coronavirus. In Washington, March, 11, 2020. (DUOG MILLS / THE NEW YORK TIMES VIA AP)

Trump restricts travel from Europe to US to fight virus

Trump on Wednesday imposed sweeping restrictions to prevent people from 26 European countries from traveling to the United States for a month starting on Friday.

Trade would not be affected by the restrictions, Trump said.

The travel order starts on Friday and applies to people from 26 European countries traveling to the US, excluding Britain

Trump said his government had been in frequent contact with US allies on the 30-day restriction, but European Union officials were not notified about the decision ahead of time, a European diplomat who was not authorized to speak publicly said.

ALSO READ: Travel ban on European visitors hits US airlines 'extremely hard'

Trump also announced several economic steps aimed at cushioning the blow to American businesses, including asking Congress to boost funding by an additional US$50 billion to support small businesses suffering economic disruptions due to the outbreak.

Meanwhile, democrats in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday unveiled a broad package of proposals to help Americans affected by the outbreak. House Democrats hoped to pass the bill through Congress before it begins a scheduled recess at the end of this week.

Also on Wednesday, a staffer in US Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell's office has tested positive for coronavirus, her office said.

Argentina suspends visas to travelers

Argentina has temporarily stopped issuing visas to travelers from countries hardest-hit by coronavirus, including the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, Britain and many European countries.

Argentina has so far registered 21 confirmed coronavirus cases and one death.

Austria reports first coronavirus death

A 69-year-old man has died in Vienna after contracting the new coronavirus, Austria's first death in the rapidly spreading epidemic, city authorities said on Thursday.

Austria has confirmed 302 cases so far, and four people have recovered.

The country said on Wednesday it would close schools from next week until April, widening measures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus.

Spain's PM to hold meetings via video conference after minister infected

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will hold all meetings via video conference starting from Thursday after fellow minister Irene Montero was diagnosed with coronavirus, the government said in a statement.

Montero's partner Pablo Iglesias, who is deputy prime minister, was quarantined and all ministers will be tested on Thursday morning, according to the statement.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in the country had reached 2,181, of which 1,024 were in the Madrid region, and 49 deaths had been reported.

Spain on Thursday will announce financial relief initiatives and a moratorium on tax payments for small- and medium-sized companies to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus, Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said.

Czech Republic to start checks on German, Austrian borders

The Czech Republic is introducing controls on its borders with Germany and Austria and banning crossings away from official frontier border posts to help fight the spread of the coronavirus, Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said on Wednesday.

The country, which is part of the European Union's Schengen area, will start the checks on Friday, news agency CTK reported.

Norway may shut several airports, operator says

Norway is considering whether to close down several airports as part of its effort to curb the spread of coronavirus, airport operator Avinor told the public broadcaster NRK on Thursday. 

At Oslo Airport, the country's largest, one of the two runways could be shut, Avinor Chief Executive Dag Falk-Petersen said.

Report: France's ADP mulls closing Paris airport terminal to cut costs

ADP could close one of the three terminals at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in north Paris to cut costs as the French airports operator faces a drop in traffic due to the coronavirus, French radio Europe 1 reported on Thursday.

Slovenia to close all schools from Monday

Slovenia plans to close all schools from Monday in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Marjan Sarec said on Thursday.

Slovenia has so far confirmed 57 cases of coronavirus. 

The country closed some border crossings with Italy on Wednesday afternoon and started making health checks at those remaining open in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the health minister said.

Algeria announced its first fatality from COVID-19 on Thursday, as South Africa's health ministry reported the first case of local transmission of the coronavirus

COVID-19 in Africa: Algeria reports first death

The Algerian Health Ministry on Thursday announced the country's first death from COVID-19, local media reported, citing a ministry statement saying that the victim was a 67-year-old man.

With five new patients, Algeria has so far reported 24 coronavirus cases, according to the statement.

In South Africa, the health ministry on Thursday reported the first case of local transmission of the coronavirus, saying a 32-year-old man had contracted it after coming into contact with a Chinese businessman.

The number of confirmed cases in the country had risen to 17 from 13, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Ghana said it has set aside the cedi equivalent of US$100 million to enhance its preparedness and response plans against the spread of coronavirus. The country is yet to record a confirmed case of the virus.

On Wednesday, Ivory Coast's health ministry said the country has confirmed its first case of coronavirus, involving a 45-year-old Ivorian man who had recently travelled to Italy.

Ivory Coast is the eighth country in sub-Saharan Africa to report a confirmed case after Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Egypt has registered seven new coronavirus cases bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 67, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

People wait for their turn to enter a supermarket in Panama City, on March 11, 2020. (LUIS ACOSTA / AFP)

Latin American countries order school closures over virus fears

At least three Latin American governments ordered a short-term suspension of all classes, both at public and private schools, officials said on Wednesday, in a bid to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele ordered all schools to close for the next three weeks, adding in a nationally televised message that all mass gatherings would also be banned during that time despite no confirmed cases of the virus so far.

The Salvadoran school closures come shortly after officials in Peru and Panama took similar actions.

El Salvador, Panama and Peru have announced school closures in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19

The Panama contingency measures apply to both public and private schools and will extend through at least April 7 in most of the country, Education Minister Maruja Gorday said in a statement.

Earlier on Wednesday, Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra said all schools would be closed at least until March 30. Peru's government has so far 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

ALSO READ: WHO declares virus outbreak pandemic as Europe toll climbs

Brazil, which has more cases than any other Latin American country, has not issued similar restrictions.

Panama's Health Minister Rosario Turner earlier this week announced the first death attributed to coronavirus in the Central American country, and there are 10 other confirmed cases of people who have tested positive for the highly-contagious virus.

Just north in neighboring Costa Rica, the government on Wednesday said it had confirmed 22 cases of coronavirus, nearly double the prior count.

Rising death toll across Europe 

Greece reported its first fatality from a coronavirus infection on Thursday, a 66 year old man who had returned from a religious pilgrimage to Israel and Egypt at the end of February. There were 99 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country by late Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Bulgaria and Sweden reported their first deaths from the COVID-19 with the total number of infected cases reaching 7 and 460 respectively, according to health authorities.

The number of new coronavirus infections in the Netherlands rose 22 percent to 614 on Thursday. The bulk of the infections, 273, are in the southern province of Noord-Brabant.

Greece, Bulgaria, Sweden and Ireland were the latest countries to report their first fatalities. In Italy, the toll rose by 196 to 827

In Italy, a total of 10,590 coronavirus infections were registered on Wednesday, up from 8,514 in the previous day, the Civil Protection Department stated.

A total of 196 new fatalities were recorded in Italy, bringing the death toll to 827 since the epidemic first appeared on Feb 21. By far, Italy has reported a total of 12,462 accumulated COVID-19 cases.

Italy added new restrictions on Wednesday to a lockdown imposed to fight the coronavirus, ordering bars, restaurants and beauty parlors to close after the highest daily increase in deaths of any country since the outbreak began.

France on Wednesday confirmed 2,281 coronavirus infection cases - nearly 500 more than a day before, with 48 deaths and 105 patients hospitalized in intensive care.

As for other parts of Europe, the total number of confirmed cases has risen to 1,567 in Germany, 500 in Stockholm, 456 in the UK, 246 in Austria, 99 in Greece, 59 in Portugal, 31 in Poland, 19 in Croatia, 18 in Serbia, 13 in Hungary, 10 in Latvia, 9 in North Macedonia, seven in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and six each in Cyprus and Malta, according to health authorities.

Finland to ban public meetings of more than 500 

Finland will ban public meetings of more than 500 people until the end of May due to the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday.

The announcement came after the Nordic country’s confirmed coronavirus cases jumped by 50 in a day to a total of 109, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said, and after the Finnish Foreign Ministry recommended citizens avoid traveling anywhere in the world now.

Ireland to shut schools, universities over coronavirus

Ireland will shut schools, universities and childcare facilities until March 29 and restrict all indoor and outdoor mass gathering in response to the spread of the coronavirus, acting Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday.

Ireland confirmed its first death of a patient diagnosed with the coronavirus on Wednesday as the number of confirmed cases of the virus rose to 43 from 34 a day earlier.

There are also 18 cases in Northern Ireland, the British region which shares an open border with the Irish republic.

ALSO READ: White House 'told health agency to keep a lid on virus meets'

Cuba, Guyana confirm first virus cases 

Cuba confirmed its first cases of the new coronavirus on Wednesday, while its textile industry has been drafted to fabricate masks and the government also urges citizens to make their own, amid a cash crunch and dwindling supplies worldwide.

Separately, Guyana on Wednesday confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus in a Guyanese woman who returned to the South American country from the United States last week, according to a statement from the president.

Denmark shuts schools and universities

Denmark will close all schools, universities and day care facilities in the coming days to curb the spread of coronavirus, the country's prime minister said on Wednesday.

Denmark had 514 people diagnosed with the coronavirus as of Wednesday, rising 10-fold since Monday in what Health Minister Magnus Heunicke described as the "most dramatic increase seen in Europe".

Canada commits US$728m to combat coronavirus

Canada committed C$1 billion ($728 million) to fight the spread of the coronavirus in the country and is ready to do more, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday as his government took its first economic measures to contain a worsening outbreak.

The country has recorded 93 confirmed cases of the highly contagious coronavirus and one death.

Russia suspends flights to Italy, Germany, France and Spain

Russia's coronavirus crisis center said on Wednesday that Russia will suspend most flights to and from Italy, Germany, France and Spain over the coronavirus outbreak, starting from Friday.

Russia will stop issuing tourist visas to Italian citizens to prevent a spread of the virus, the crisis center said in a statement.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Russia rose to 28 from 20 on Wednesday and all the people tested positive in the last day had previously traveled to Italy, according to the statement.

Guatemala to ban entry of European citizens

Guatemalan Health Minister Hugo Monroy said on Wednesday that the country will ban the entry of European citizens in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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