From deploying the army to banning funerals: Coronavirus prompts unprecedented measures around the world

The coronavirus, which has killed more than 14,600 people globally, have prompted countries around the world to take extreme measures to combat the virus. In some places, the moves have upended social norms, led to strict social distancing rules being enforced and the shutdown of some of the world’s key landmarks. Here’s a look at some of them.


China was the first to impose a lockdown on its cities – a move now seen in many countries around the world – with its quarantine of the city of Wuhan where the virus first appeared in December. The restrictions imposed on Jan 23 shut down transport links into and out of the city of 11 million, with people ordered to stay home and allowed to leave only for grocery runs and medical care. Schools, offices and factories were also shut. The authorities also conducted house-to-house searches, rounding up the sick and housing them in quarantine centres. While the draconian measures initially drew scrutiny, they have been credited by the World Health Organisation for helping to limit the global spread of the virus.


In Italy, where the virus death toll of more than 5,000, has already overtaken that of China, some of the country’s worst-hit regions have stepped up social distancing measures to get people to stay at home. The northern region of Veneto shut parks and said residents could no longer go for walks, while the adjacent Emilia-Romagna banned jogging and bicycle rides, saying people had to stay indoors to prevent infections. The latest measures effectively banned the only types of outdoor exercise that Italians in those regions had been allowed to do. A lockdown imposed nationwide since earlier this month – the first during peacetime – has banned all non-essential travel, closed schools and most shops, and even outlawed marriages and funerals.


France, which has seen more than 16,000 cases of the virus and at least 600 deaths, earlier this month advised the public to refrain from giving greetings with kisses or air kisses that are also popular in Europe. In addition to refraining from the greetings, known as “la bise”, Health Minister Olivier Veran also urged the public to cut back on giving handshakes. The social distancing recommendations are part of France’s efforts to combat the coronavirus, which include the shutdown of popular tourist sites such as the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower, as well as a nationwide lockdown that limits citizens to going out of the their homes only for groceries, work, solitary exercise or medical care.


In Germany, where the virus has infected at least 22,00 and killed more than 80 people, any gathering more than three, is a crowd. For at least the next two weeks, people in Germany will not be allowed to form groups of more than two in public unless they live together in the same household or the gathering is work-related, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Sunday (March 22). As part of a bundle of stricter social distancing rules, restaurants will only offer takeaway services and hairdressers and beauty, massage and tattoo parlours will also be closed.


The coronavirus brought the shutters down on British pubs last Friday (March 20), a “heartbreaking” decision Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he made to slow down the accelerating spread of the coronavirus. Announcing the measure, Johnson said: “I do accept that what we’re doing is extraordinary: we’re taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub, and I can understand how people feel about that. It’s a huge wrench.” In addition to pubs, restaurants, clubs and gyms have also closed and the government may impose curfews and travel restrictions if the social distancing measures are not heeded. The virus has killed more than 280 people and infected more than 5,500 in Britain.


A warm autumn spell brought droves of Australians to hit Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach last Friday (March 20), defying the government’s orders to avoid non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The crowds prompted authorities to close the country’s most famous strip of sand as well a s other beaches in the country. The government also announced further social distancing measures that kicked in on Monday, which ceased many non-essential services, such as pubs, clubs, cinemas, gyms and houses of worship. Australia has seen least 1,600 cases and seven deaths from the virus.


Saudi Arabia last Thursday (March 19) suspended Muslims from conducting their five daily prayers and the weekly Friday prayer in the overflow area just outside the walls of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The kingdom, which has recorded more than 500 cases of the virus, has already taken drastic measures, including halting international flights, suspending the Umrah year-round pilgrimage to Mecca, closing mosques, schools, malls and restaurants, and asking people to stop going to work. Aside from Saudi Arabia, many governments in the Muslim world have also suspended communal prayers or closed mosques entirely, leaving many of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to pray at home, at work, in parks or in the street.


Malaysia, which has South-east Asia’s highest number of coronavirus cases, deployed the army last Sunday (March 22) to enforce a two-week curb on travel after some people defied the restrictions that came into force last Wednesday. The police and army have been deployed at road blocks and markets, on patrols in urban and rural areas, as well as assisting in maintaining security at hospitals. Since last Wednesday, Malaysia has closed its borders, schools and non-essential businesses and ordered people to limit going outside. The country has so far reported at least 14 deaths and more than 1,500 infections, most of them linked to a religious gathering last month.


Singapore, which has seen more than 400 cases of the virus and at least two deaths, announced stricter social distancing guidelines last Friday (March 20), suspending all events and gatherings with 250 or more participants until June 30. Meanwhile, events with fewer than 250 people and operators of venues accessible to the public must implement measures to ensure a separation of at least 1m between patrons. The measures will apply across the board for all events, including religious and private gatherings.


India on March 17 took the unprecedented step of closing the Taj Mahal, its top tourist site as part of efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus. Along with the Taj Mahal, dozens of other protected monuments and museums across in the country including the Ajanta and Ellora caves and religious sites such as the Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai, have been closed. The country last Sunday stepped up its measures to combat the pandemic, with hundreds of millions staying indoors as part of a 14-hour voluntary curfew aimed at testing its ability to fight the pandemic. At least eight people have died from the virus while more than 400 have been infected. Following Sunday’s curfew, New Delhi announced it will be under lockdown until March 31, while public transport will be suspended.


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