The Latest: Hungary closes its borders to foreigners

USA By: The Bullet Wire 4:45 am

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 169,000 people and killed more than 6,500. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms but most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or people with existing health problems. More than 77,000 people have recovered from it so far, mostly in China.

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Hungary’s prime minister says the country is closing its borders to foreigners and only citizens will be allowed in. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Monday in Parliament that international coordination about the border closures is underway.

Orban also said all bars, restaurants and shops will have to close daily at 3 p.m., with only food stores, pharmacies and drug stores allowed to stay open longer.

Cinemas, cultural institutions and nightclubs will also be closed, while sporting events can still be held if organizers assume responsibility, but only without spectators.

Schools were closed to students on Monday, with distance learning programs starting to be implemented.

So far, 30 people in Hungary have been infected with one virus-related death.

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European Union leaders will hold a video-conference summit on efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, which has now infected around 40,000 people across Europe, and claimed some 2,000 lives.

EU Council President Charles Michel, who chairs summits of prime ministers and presidents from the 27 EU nations, said via Twitter on Monday that he was calling on Tuesday what will be the second meeting of its kind in two weeks.

“Containing the spread of the virus, providing sufficient medical equipment, boosting research and limiting the economic fallout is key,” Michel tweeted.

The EU is urging its member countries to put common health screening procedures in place at their borders to limit the spread of the virus, but not to block the transport of important medical equipment.

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U.K.-based airlines, including British Airways and Ryanair, are scaling back flights dramatically in response to the coronavirus crisis that has seen Europe and the wider world go into lockdown.

EasyJet said it is introducing “further significant cancellations” as a result of the restrictions and “significantly reduced levels of customer demand.” It added that these will continue on “a rolling basis for the foreseeable future” and could result in the grounding of most of its fleet.

BA’s parent company IAG, which also owns Spain’s Iberia, also announced plans to reduce capacity. For April and May, it said it plans to reduce capacity by at least 75% from the previous year. It also said it is reducing operating expenses, by grounding surplus aircraft and implementing voluntary leave options.

And Ryanair said its expects that the restrictions will mean the grounding of the majority of its aircraft fleet across Europe over the next seven to 10 days.

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China is relaxing travel restrictions in the hardest-hit virus province of Hubei, sending thousands of workers back to jobs at factories desperate to get production going again.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported Monday that cities just outside the epicenter ofWuhan were chartering buses to send back to work residents who had returned home for the Lunar New Year in late January.

The move comes as Chinese officials say the outbreak that spread from Wuhan starting in December has mostly run its course domestically, while they remain vigilant against imported cases.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has has a devastating effect on China’s service sector and industries from autos to cell phones, although President Xi Jinping has pledged that economic growth targets for the year will still be met.

Xinhua cited local officials as saying that 750,000 migrant workers alone in the city of Huangguang adjacent to Wuhan have been unable to return to their jobs.

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Iranian state TV says the new coronavirus has killed another 129 people, pushing the country’s death toll to 853 amid 14,991 confirmed cases.

Iran is struggling to contain the worst outbreak in the Middle East. Monday saw the biggest one-day rise in the death toll since the epidemic began. Even senior officials have been infected.

World Health Organization officials say that Iran’s outbreak is being reported.

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All Disney owned hotels at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, will close at 5 p.m. on March 20, the company announced Monday.

The closure also includes Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. In a tweet, the company said the Friday closure will give guests the ability to make other arrangements.

In addition, the company announced it is closing all Disney stores in North America, beginning Tuesday. Online shopping will still be available.

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Liberia has announced its first COVID-19 case Monday as the executive director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Nathaniel Blama, among the first officials on the continent to contract the virus.

Blama came to Liberia from Switzerland on Friday. Information Minister Eugene Nagbe said “there is no cause for panic” given measures put in place by the government to contact, trace, test and control any emergence of the virus.

Liberia, along with its neighbors Sierra Leone and Guinea, were devastated Ebola outbreaks from 2014 to 2016 that killed more than 11,300 people, including 4,000 in Liberia alone.

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Belgium’s political parties have agreed to temporary put their differences aside to fight the coronavirus outbreak more efficiently. After months of failed negotiations, opposition parties agreed to grant Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes’ caretaker government special powers for up to six months.

Wilmes said late Sunday on Twitter that her team will be “driven by a sense of duty. This great union is up to the challenges of the moment.”

Belgium has been in a political impasse for months after last May’s general election exposed deep linguistic and regional divisions in the country. Belgium’s first female prime minister, Wilmes was appointed in October to succeed liberal leader Charles Michel, who became president of the European Council.

In an attempt to stop the spreading of the COVID-19 virus, Wilmes’ government has closed schools, bars and restaurants and suspended all sports and cultural events. Belgium has 1,085 confirmed cases and four deaths.

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The Czech Interior Ministry is calling on all citizens to use any face protection available, especially while shopping and using the public transport.

“Any protection is better than no protection,” the ministry said. It advised people to stay at home, if possible.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech acknowledged over the weekend that the medical sector lacks up to a million respirators.

The government has banned traveling across the country, starting Monday. People still can travel to work, visit doctors or do shopping. The Czech Republic has 298 COVID-19 cases.

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South Africa will revoke nearly 10,000 visas issued this year to people from China and Iran, and visas will now be required for other high-risk countries that had been visa-free, including Italy and the United States.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says a lockdown might be necessary if tough new measures announced Sunday, including travel restrictions and school closings, don’t work. He warns of a high risk of internal virus transmission with “the problem of inequality in our society.”

South Africans worry about the spread of the virus to crowded townships or public transport. Confirmed virus cases have doubled every two days over 10 days to 61, a rate he called “explosive.”

Elsewhere, Africa’s second most populous nation, Ethiopia, has suspended schools, sporting events and other large gatherings for 15 days.

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Bavarian authorities say that runoff mayoral elections in the southern German state will be conducted entirely by postal vote to reduce risks of infection with the new coronavirus.

Polling stations opened as usual, though with increased hygienic precautions, for the first round of municipal elections on Sunday.

On Monday, though, Bavaria’s state government tightened its restrictions on public life, saying that it would close bars, cinemas and some shops among other things. The regional interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, said that the runoff votes in two weeks will be held “exclusively by postal ballot.”

Among the cities and towns where a runoff vote will be needed is the state capital, Munich, where center-left mayor Dieter Reiter fell narrowly short of the 50% support needed to avoid a second round.

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The government of Kosovo has declared the state of emergency due to the coronavirus threat. Kosovo has 13 COVID-19 cases. It has closed all its borders and suspended flights from its only international airport. The government has closed all schools, cafes, restaurants and gyms and banned mass gatherings.

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Greece’s Olympic committee says the handover ceremony for the Olympic flame for the Tokyo games scheduled this Thursday will take place behind closed doors as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee said the accreditation cards that had been issued for the ceremony at the Athens Panaetenaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, will not be valid. The HOC’s headquarters will also be closed from Monday until further notice, it added.

Last week, the committee canceled the remainder of the Olympic torch relay after crowds gathered in Sparta in southern Greece to watch part of the torch relay, where the torch was carried by actor Gerard Butler.

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Germany has partially closed its borders with five neighbors, leading to queues at some crossings.

German police launched new controls at the usually check-free borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark on Monday. Police turned back some pedestrians at Kehl, across the Rhine river from the French city of Strasbourg.

People who commute across the border to work are still allowed to cross, as can trucks carrying goods, and Germans are being allowed back in. But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that people “without a valid reason to travel” wouldn’t be allowed across.

That, for example, ends trips to shops across the border for now.

Denmark shut own border over the weekend – as did two eastern neighbors of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Lithuania’s government said a convoy of some 500 vehicles — mostly Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and Ukrainians — will be allowed to enter Poland from Germany and transit toward Lithuania on Monday.

Germany has confirmed over 4,800 infections with the new coronavirus, including 12 deaths.

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced Monday that it is suspending production across most of its European plants through March 27.

The Italian-American carmaker is closing six plants in Italy that make cars under the Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati nameplates as well as a plant in Serbia that makes the Fiat 500L and in Poland that makes the Fiat 500. The closure in Italy will affect lines producing the Panda sub-compact, the Jeep Renegade and Compact and the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio.

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South Korea’s central bank has executed an emergency rate cut of 0.5 percentage point to help ease the economic fallout from the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 8,200 people in the country.

The Bank of Korea’s move on Monday brought its policy rate to an all-time low of 0.75% amid concerns that the global spread of COVID-19 will rattle South Korea’s trade-dependent economy.

The bank says the rate cut will help ease volatility in financial markets and help pump money into the economy by lowering borrowing costs for companies.

But some experts say it’s unclear whether lower interest rates will meaningfully boost economic activity that’s largely suppressed by preventive measures against the virus.

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Bangladesh’s government has shut down all all educational institutions and private tutorial centers across the country until March 31.

Education Minister Dipu Moni said at a news conference Monday in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, that the measures were taken as a precautionary step against the coronavirus. Bangladesh confirmed three more cases of infection on Monday, taking the total to eight. ___

Czech authorities are ordering a lockdown of 21 towns and villages in an area some 250 kilometers (150 miles) east of the capital to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

The health authority in the nearby city of Olomouc barred residents from leaving those places and no one without residency can travel there. The extraordinary measure initially for two weeks includes confining people to their homes except to shop for food and medicine and go to and from work.

The Czech Republic has 298 cases of infection with the virus that causes COVID-19.

The measure comes just hours after the government banned traveling across the country.

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Iranian news agencies say a 78-year-old member of the Iranian clerical body that chooses the country’s supreme leader has died from the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

He was the latest of several senior Iranian officials to have been infected in the worsening outbreak.

The outbreak has infected nearly 14,000 people in Iran and killed more than 700, with the toll jumping by more than a hundred in the last 24 hours. The real numbers may be even higher, as some have questioned the government’s reporting.

The semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported that Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei, a low-profile, moderate member of the Assembly of Experts, died from the COVID-19 illness.

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Turkey is closing bars and nightclubs to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, meanwhile, reported on his Twitter account 12 more coronavirus cases, including seven people who had returned from European countries and three from the United States. The update raised Turkey’s confirmed cases to 18.

Bars and nightclubs will be temporarily closed as of Monday, the Interior Ministry said.

Turkey has also suspended flights to several countries and closing schools and universities.

On Sunday, Turkey set up quarantine locations for more than 10,300 people returning from pilgrimages to Islam’s holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

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The Peace Corps is evacuating all of its volunteers and suspending operations in dozens of countries.

Director Jody Olsen says Sunday’s decision comes as “international travel becomes more and more challenging by the day.” She said the agency wanted to avoid leaving volunteers stranded in host countries.

As of September 2019, the service program run by the U.S. government said it operates in more than 60 countries and has more than 7,300 volunteers and trainees. Volunteers in China and Mongolia have already been evacuated over virus concerns.

Olsen says host country staff will remain in their current roles.

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