Factbox: Latest on the worldwide spread of coronavirus

(Reuters) – Coronavirus infections slowed in Australia and New Zealand, while Britain said it was at a “tipping point” on COVID-19 as European countries mulled tightening restrictions to curb a sharp resurgence in cases.

EUROPE

* Britain is at a tipping point on COVID-19, health minister Matt Hancock said, warning that a second national lockdown could be imposed if people don’t follow government rules designed to stop the spread of the virus.

* The Czech government could declare a state of emergency if a recent spike in cases continues in the coming days, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said.

* Protesters in some poorer areas of Madrid that are facing a lockdown to stem a soaring infection rate took to the streets on Sunday to call for better health provisions, complaining of discrimination by the authorities.

* Russia reported 6,148 new cases on Sunday, the second straight day when the daily number of cases exceeded 6,000.

* French health authorities reported 10,569 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday, down from the previous day’s record increase of 13,498.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* Schools in Seoul and nearby areas resumed in-person classes for the first time in almost a month after daily cases dropped to the lowest levels since mid-August.

* Australia’s coronavirus hotspot of Victoria reported on Monday its lowest daily rise in infections in three months, although state Premier Daniel Andrews said there were no plans yet to ease restrictions sooner than expected.

* New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lifted all coronavirus restrictions across the country, except in second-wave hotspot Auckland, as the number of new infections slowed to a trickle.

AMERICAS

* The United States set a one-day record with over 1 million coronavirus diagnostic tests being performed, but the country needs 6 million to 10 million a day to bring outbreaks under control, according to various experts.

* Brazil and Argentina, Latin American nations seeking more time to commit to the global COVID-19 vaccine facility known as COVAX, said they intend to do so as soon as possible after missing Friday’s deadline.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Morocco signed a deal with Russia’s R-Pharm to buy a COVID-19 vaccine produced under a license from Britain’s AstraZeneca, the health ministry said, as its total number of cases approached 100,000.

* Israel entered a second nationwide lockdown at the onset of the Jewish high-holiday season, forcing residents to stay mostly at home amid a resurgence in new cases.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* Moderna Inc said it was on track to produce 20 million doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, while maintaining its goal of readying 500 million to 1 billion doses in 2021.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* British manufacturers see no evidence of a ‘V’-shaped recovery from the pandemic underway and many are planning to slash investment, a business survey showed.

(Compiled by Devika Syamnath and Alex Richardson; Edited by Shounak Dasgupta)

Global coronavirus cases surpass 30 million: Reuters tally

By Jane Wardell

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus cases exceeded 30 million on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, with the pandemic showing no signs of slowing.

India was firmly in focus as the latest epicenter, although North and South America combined still accounted for almost half of the global cases.

Global new daily case numbers reached record levels in recent days and deaths neared 1 million as the international race to develop and market a vaccine heated up.

The official number of global coronavirus cases is now more than five times the number of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to World Health Organization data.

Around the world, there have been almost 1 million deaths, considered a lagging indicator given the two-week incubation period of the virus. That has well exceeded the upper range of 290,000 to 650,000 annual deaths linked to influenza.

India this week became only the second country in the world, after the United States, to record more than 5 million cases. On Thursday, it reported another record daily rise in cases of almost 98,000.

The south Asian nation, the world’s second most populous country, has been reporting more new daily cases than the United States since mid-August and accounts for just over 16% of global known cases.

Reported deaths in India have been relatively low so far but are showing an uptick, and the country has recorded more than 1,000 deaths every day for the last two weeks.

The United States has about 20% of all global cases, although it has just 4% of the world’s population. Brazil, the third worst-hit country, accounts for roughly 15% of global cases.

It took 18 days for global cases to surge from 25 million to more than 30 million. It took 20 days for the world to go from 20 million to 25 million and 19 days to go from 15 million to 20 million.

The global rate of new daily cases is slowing, reflecting progress in constraining the disease in many countries, despite a few big surges.

Australia on Thursday reported its lowest single-day case rise since June as strict lockdown measures in its second largest city of Melbourne, the center of the country’s second wave, appeared to pay off.

Health experts stress that official data almost certainly under-reports both infections and deaths, particularly in countries with limited testing capacity.

The race to develop and bring to market a novel coronavirus vaccine has grown increasingly frenetic in recent weeks with about 200 candidates in development globally.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said his country could have a vaccine ready for distribution before the U.S. election on Nov. 3, while a Chinese health official this week said China may have a vaccine ready for public use as early as November.

While the trajectory of the coronavirus still falls far short of the 1918 Spanish flu, which infected an estimated 500 million people, killing at least 10% of them, experts worry the available data is underplaying the true impact of the pandemic.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell; editing by Robert Birsel and Lisa Shumaker)

Girl power in the deep blue sea: World’s largest fish are female

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Male and female whale sharks – filter-feeding marine behemoths – grow at different rates, with females doing so more slowly but getting much larger than the guys, according to research that offers deeper insight into the biology of Earth’s largest fish.

Researchers said on Wednesday they had tracked the growth of 54 whale sharks over a 10-year period in the vast Ningaloo Reef off Australia’s west coast, where hundreds of these slow-swimming endangered fish migrate annually.

Whale sharks of both sexes were found to have their fastest growth as juveniles, about 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) annually.

Overall, males were found to grow slightly more quickly than females, plateauing at around 26 feet (8 meters) long after reaching sexual maturity at about 30 years old. Females plateaued at around 14 meters (46 feet) when they reached sexual maturity at about age 50.

It is believed whale sharks may live 100-150 years. The longest-known whale shark reached about 60 feet (18 meters).

“Whale sharks are remarkable in that females have massive litters of pups, up to 300 at one time. Being very large is almost certainly a prerequisite for carrying this many young inside a female’s body,” said Australian Institute of Marine Science marine biologist Mark Meekan, who led the research published the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

These sharks have a brownish-grayish color on the back and sides with white spots, with a white underside.

“Our study provides the first evidence that male and female whale sharks grow at different rates,” Meekan said. “Previously, researchers had to rely on estimates of growth and age extracted from the vertebrae of dead sharks that had either stranded on shore or been killed by a fishery. Samples were very limited and didn’t cover a very wide size range of animals, confounding attempts to produce reliable estimates of growth patterns.”

They are filter feeders, swimming great distances through the world’s tropical oceans to find enough plankton to sustain themselves.

“Our study has important implications for conservation,” Meekan said. “If it takes many years, 30 or more, for these animals to become mature, there are lots of threats such as hunting and ship-strike that they may succumb to before they get a chance to breed, making conservation strategies for these animals an urgent task.”

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

New travel curbs imposed as world tackles second COVID-19 wave

By Stephen Coates and Peter Graff

SYDNEY/LONDON (Reuters) – Nations in Asia imposed new restrictions on Monday and an abrupt British quarantine on travelers from Spain threw Europe’s summer reopening into disarray, as the world confronted the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

In the United States, where infection rates have been climbing since mid-June, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien became the most senior White House official to test positive.

Surges were reported in a number of countries previously singled out as places where the virus was under control.

Australia recorded a record daily rise. Vietnam locked down the city of Danang, forcing tens of thousands of visitors to evacuate. Mainland China confirmed the most new locally transmitted cases since early March. Papua New Guinea shut its borders.

Hong Kong banned gatherings of more than two people, closed down restaurant dining and introduced mandatory face masks in public places, including outdoors.

Just weeks after European countries trumpeted the reopening of tourism, a surge in infections in Spain prompted Britain to order all travelers from there to quarantine for two weeks, torpedoing the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people.

The World Health Organization said travel restrictions could not be the answer for the long term, and countries had to do more to halt the spread inside their borders by adopting proven strategies such as social distancing and the wearing of masks.

“It is going to be almost impossible for individual countries to keep their borders shut for the foreseeable future. Economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume,” WHO emergencies program director Mike Ryan said.

“What is clear is pressure on the virus pushes the numbers down. Release that pressure and cases creep back up.”

NOT LIKE BEFORE

Officials in some of the European and Asian countries where the virus is again spreading say new outbreaks will not be as bad as the original waves that hit earlier this year, and can be contained with local measures rather than nationwide shutdowns.

But countries that have suffered extreme economic hardship from months of lockdowns are also determined not to let the virus get out of control again, even if that means reversing the path to reopening.

Europe has yet to lift bans on travelers from many countries, including the United States where the White House said national security adviser O’Brien presented no risk of infection for Trump or Vice President Mike Pence.

Britain’s announcement of the return of quarantine for Spain was likely to torpedo the revival of airlines and tourism businesses across the continent, which had thought they had survived their biggest crisis in living memory.

Britain accounts for more than 20% of foreign visitors to Spain, where tourism represents 12% of the economy.

Europe’s biggest airline, Ryanair, cut its annual passenger target by a quarter on Monday and warned a second wave of COVID-19 infections could lower that further.

A British junior health minister said more European countries could end up on the “red list” if infections surge.

“If we see the rates going up, we would have to take action because we cannot take the risk of coronavirus being spread again across the UK,” Helen Whately told Sky News when asked if Germany or France might be next after Spain.

In China, which managed to squelch local transmission through firm lockdowns after the virus first emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year, a new surge has been driven by infections in the far western region of Xinjiang.

In the northeast, Liaoning province reported a fifth straight day of new infections and Jilin province reported two new cases, its first since late May.

Australian authorities who have imposed a six-week lockdown in parts of the southeastern state of Victoria said it could last longer after the country’s highest daily increase in infections.

“The tragedy of COVID-19 is that we know, with the number of new infections that we have seen today, that there will be many further deaths in the days ahead,” Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told reporters.

In Japan, the government said it would urge business leaders to ramp up anti-virus measures such as staggered shifts, and aimed to see rates of telecommuting return to levels achieved during an earlier state of emergency.

“At one point, commuter numbers were down by 70 to 80%, but now it’s only about 30%,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said late on Sunday. “We really don’t want to backtrack on this, so we have to explore new ways of working and keep telecommuting high.”

Vietnam is evacuating 80,000 people, mostly local tourists, from Danang after three residents tested positive at the weekend. Until Saturday, the country had reported no community infections since April.

North Korean state media reported on the weekend that the border town of Kaesong was in lockdown after a person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned this month with symptoms of COVID-19. If confirmed, it would be the first case officially acknowledged by Pyongyang.

Papua New Guinea halted entry for travellers from Monday, except those arriving by air, as it tightens curbs against infections that have more than doubled over the past week.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Stephen Coates and Peter Graff; Editing by Nick Macfie)

WHO to travelers: keep an eye on ‘anywhere and everywhere’ COVID-19

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization on Tuesday urged travelers to wear masks on planes and keep themselves informed as COVID-19 cases surge again in some countries, prompting new restrictions in places like Australia.

Spokeswoman Margaret Harris urged people not to be caught off-guard by resurgent local epidemics and quarantine measures, saying: “If it’s anywhere, it’s everywhere and people travelling have to understand that.”

“This virus is widespread and people have to take that very, very seriously.”

The WHO said last month that it would update its travel guidelines ahead of the northern hemisphere summer holidays but they have not yet been released.

In the meantime, travelers should “remember things will change, or may well change”, Harris said at a Geneva briefing.

“We’re seeing a lot of upticks, a lot of changes in different countries, countries that had successfully shut down their first transmission are seeing second upticks,” she added, mentioning Australia and Hong Kong.

Lockdown measures were reimposed in Australia’s second biggest city on Tuesday, confining Melbourne residents to their homes unless undertaking essential business, as officials scramble to contain a coronavirus outbreak.

The WHO’s previous guidance for travelers has included common-sense advice applicable to other settings such as social distancing, washing your hands and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Harris also proposed on Tuesday wearing a mask on planes, a measure which is already a requirement of many airlines.

“If you are flying, there is no way you can social distance in a plane, so you will need to take other precautions including using a face covering,” she said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge, Stephanie Nebehay and Michael Shields; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Global coronavirus deaths top half a million

By Jane Wardell and Cate Cadell

SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – The death toll from COVID-19 surpassed half a million people on Sunday, according to a Reuters tally, a grim milestone for the global pandemic that seems to be resurgent in some countries even as other regions are still grappling with the first wave.

The respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus has been particularly dangerous for the elderly, although other adults and children are also among the 501,000 fatalities and 10.1 million reported cases.

While the overall rate of death has flattened in recent weeks, health experts have expressed concerns about record numbers of new cases in countries like the United States, India and Brazil, as well as new outbreaks in parts of Asia.

More than 4,700 people are dying every 24 hours from COVID-19-linked illness, according to Reuters calculations based on an average from June 1 to 27.

That equates to 196 people per hour, or one person every 18 seconds.

About one-quarter of all the deaths so far have been in the United States, the Reuters data shows. The recent surge in cases has been most pronounced in a handful of Southern and Western states that reopened earlier and more aggressively. U.S. officials on Sunday reported around 44,700 new cases and 508 additional deaths.

Case numbers are also growing swiftly in Latin America, on Sunday surpassing those diagnosed in Europe, making the region the second most affected by the pandemic, after North America.

On the other side of the world, Australian officials were considering reimposing social distancing measures in some regions on Monday after reporting the biggest one-day rise in infections in more than two months.

The first recorded death from the new virus was on Jan. 9, a 61-year-old man from the Chinese city of Wuhan who was a regular shopper at a wet market that has been identified as the source of the outbreak.

In just five months, the COVID-19 death toll has overtaken the number of people who die annually from malaria, one of the most deadly infectious diseases.

The death rate averages out to 78,000 per month, compared with 64,000 AIDS-related deaths and 36,000 malaria deaths, according to 2018 figures from the World Health Organization.

CHANGING BURIAL RITES

The high number of deaths has led to changes to traditional and religious burial rites around the world, with morgues and funeral businesses overwhelmed and loved ones often barred from bidding farewell in person.

In Israel, the custom of washing the bodies of Muslim deceased is not permitted, and instead of being shrouded in cloth, they must be wrapped in a plastic body bag. The Jewish tradition of Shiva where people go to the home of mourning relatives for seven days has also been disrupted.

In Italy, Catholics have been buried without funerals or a blessing from a priest. In New York, city crematories were at one point working overtime, burning bodies into the night as officials scouted for temporary interment sites.

In Iraq, former militiamen have dropped their guns to instead dig graves for coronavirus victims at a specially created cemetery. They have learned how to conduct Christian, as well as Muslim, burials.

ELDERLY AT RISK

Public health experts are looking at how demographics affect the death rates in different regions. Some European countries with older populations have reported higher fatality rates, for instance.

An April report by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control looked at more than 300,000 cases in 20 countries and found that about 46% of all fatalities were over the age of 80.

In Indonesia, hundreds of children are believed to have died, a development health officials have attributed to malnutrition, anemia and inadequate child health facilities.

Health experts caution that the official data likely does not tell the full story, with many believing that both cases and deaths have likely been under reported in some countries.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell in Sydney and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Daniel Wallis)

Australia asks embassy in U.S. to register concern over cameraman

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia has asked its embassy in the United States to register its concerns with authorities there about an apparent police assault on an Australian cameraman during a protest in Washington, its foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, thousands of Australians marched in Sydney to protest against the death of black American George Floyd in U.S. police custody, after days of demonstrations and clashes in the United States sparked by the killing.

The Sydney protest came as Australian police face questions about use of force during the arrest of a teenager of aboriginal descent.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Australian government would support Channel Seven, where the cameraman worked, should it wish to lodge its concerns over the incident in Washington with U.S. authorities through the embassy there.

“I want to get further advice on how we would go about registering Australia’s strong concerns with the responsible local authorities in Washington,” Payne told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“So our embassy in the United States will approach the relevant authorities, and Channel Seven will also provide us with their views on how they wish to deal with it.”

Video footage posted on social media showed Channel 7 correspondent Amelia Brace and cameraman Tim Myers broadcasting live on a street when riot police approached to clear the area, hitting Myers with a shield.

The pair are then seen trying to leave the scene while another policeman swung at them with a baton.

“This is obviously a very troubling period in the United States, and a very tough period,” Payne told the ABC. “We encourage all involved on both sides to exercise constraint and avoid violence.”

‘EVERYBODY’S PROBLEM’

Earlier, protesters in Australia’s biggest city defied coronavirus restrictions on crowds to march from a park towards government buildings, holding signs saying “I can’t breathe!” and chanting “Black lives matter” and “Take a knee” while mounted police stood by.

“This is everybody’s problem,” Kira Dargin, an aboriginal Wiradjuri woman at the protest told Reuters.

“As a black woman, I’m tired of seeing my brothers go down. As a black mother I fear for my child. Got to stop.”

An investigation has been opened in Sydney into the arrest of a 17-year-old of aboriginal descent after video footage appeared on social media showing him being handcuffed and kicked to the ground after an argument with police.

The constable involved has been put on restricted duties while the investigation takes place.

“This is not the United States of America,” Assistant Commissioner Michael Wiling told reporters. “We have very, very good relations with our local community. I’m concerned that people will pre-empt the outcomes of the investigation and draw conclusions prior to that.”

(Reporting by Paulina Duran, Loren Elliot, and Jill Gralow in Sydney; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Robert Birsel)

Latest on the spread of the coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – The number of confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus were reported to have exceeded 1.5 million globally and the death toll rose above 89,400, according to a Reuters tally as of 1400 GMT.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

* For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

* U.S.-focused tracker with state-by-state and county map, open https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T in an external browser.

EUROPE

* Spain’s prime minister warned that nationwide confinement would likely last until May even though he said the worst should soon be over and the death toll slowed.

* Italy may start lifting some restrictions by the end of April provided the slowing trend continues, its prime minister told the BBC, but the easing can only be gradual.

* Germany’s health minister said restrictions are flattening the curve showing new cases.

* British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is getting better but remains in intensive care as his government reviews the most stringent shutdown in the peacetime history.

* Russia reported a record one-day rise in cases, pushing its tally to more than 10,000, a day after President Vladimir Putin said the coming weeks would prove decisive in the fight against the virus.

* The Czech Republic plans to roll out a system of quickly tracking and isolating contacts of people with the virus to eventually allow the lifting of blanket restrictions.

* Slovakia closed off several Roma settlements in the eastern part of the country after reports of virus clusters in five of them.

* Bulgaria’s prime minister said the country’s Orthodox churches and temples will be open for traditional Palm Sunday and Easter services despite the outbreak.

AMERICAS

* The top U.S. infectious disease expert warned against reopening the economy too soon after a downward revisions in the projected death toll.

* The White House is expected to announce soon formation of a second coronavirus task force, this one devoted to getting the economy going again when the time is right.

* The U.S. Senate failed to pass an additional $250 billion of aid intended to help small businesses as Democrats and Republicans blocked each other’s proposals.

* Canada’s death toll is set to soar from the current 435 to as high as 22,000 by the end of the pandemic, while the economy lost a record 1 million jobs last month.

* Brazil’s health minister said the country’s attempts to purchase thousands of ventilators from China fell through and the government is now looking to Brazilian companies to build the devices.

* Mexico has reported more than 3,000 cases, but many who are infected likely did not have symptoms or were not diagnosed, with the actual number estimated at 26,500.

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

* China will allocate more resources to prevent the spread of the virus from its land borders, as the country still faces risks of a comeback after new clusters are identified in some regions.

* The total number of infections in Japan hit more than 5,300 on Thursday, showing no signs of slowing despite a state of emergency being imposed on Tokyo and six other areas.

* India claimed initial success in its fight against the epidemic, saying it would have been hit with 820,000 cases by next week had it not imposed a nationwide lockdown.

* Vietnam said more than 1,000 healthcare workers and 14,400 others linked to an outbreak at a Hanoi hospital have tested negative.

* Singapore confirmed 287 new infections on Thursday, its biggest daily increase yet, with more than 200 of them linked to outbreaks in dormitories for foreign workers.

* Indonesia reported its biggest daily jump in deaths on Thursday, while neighbouring Malaysia had its second-lowest daily increase since a partial lockdown was imposed on March 18.

* Australian police said they have taken the “black box” of a cruise ship which disembarked hundreds of infected passengers in Sydney, as part of a homicide investigation into the country’s deadliest infection source.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* All Botswana’s parliamentarians including the president will be quarantined for two weeks and tested, after a health worker screening lawmakers for the virus tested positive.

* Lebanon extended its almost month-long shutdown by another two weeks until April 26.

* Political and physical divisions in the West Bank and Gaza have induced two very different responses, with a strict lockdown in the first and crowds milling about freely in the second.

* A South African public sector union withdrew a court case against the government over shortages of protective gear for frontline health workers.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

* Global equity benchmarks gained on Thursday following signs that governments and central banks are taking additional steps to bolster their economies as measures to slow the spread of the pandemic appear to be working.

* The pandemic will turn global economic growth “sharply negative” in 2020, triggering the worst fallout since the 1930s Great Depression, with only a partial recovery seen in 2021, the head of the International Monetary Fund said.

* The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits in the last three weeks has blown past 15 million, with weekly new claims topping 6 million for the second straight time.

* The U.S. Federal Reserve rolled out a broad, $2.3 trillion effort to bolster local governments and small and mid-sized businesses.

* U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that aid for airlines will be the “next big thing” to be rolled out.

* The European Union faces an existential threat if it cannot come together to combat the crisis, Italy said on Thursday as the divided bloc sought to salvage talks on a rescue package.

* The Bank of England has agreed temporarily to finance government borrowing if funds cannot immediately be raised from debt markets, reviving a measure last widely used during the 2008 financial crisis.

(Compiled by Sarah Morland, Milla Nissi, Aditya Soni and Uttaresh.V; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Arun Koyyur and Anil D’Silva)

Tokyo 2020 delay looms after Canada and Australia exit

By Steve Keating and Leika Kihara

TORONTO/TOKYO (Reuters) – Major sporting nations Australia and Canada withdrew from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Monday as organizers faced global pressure to postpone the Games due to the coronavirus crisis for the first time in their 124-year modern history.

Putting back the July 24-Aug. 9 event, as is looking inevitable, would be a massive blow for host Japan which has pumped in more than $12 billion of investment.

Huge sums are also at stake for sponsors and broadcasters.

But a groundswell of concern from athletes – already struggling to train as gyms, stadiums and swimming pools close around the world – appears to be tipping the balance, along with the cancellation of other major sports events.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government have both edged back from weeks of blanket insistence the Games would go ahead, announcing a month-long consultation over other scenarios including postponement.

The Olympics have never before been delayed, though they were canceled altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944 during the World Wars, and major Cold War boycotts disrupted the Moscow and Los Angeles Games in 1980 and 1984 respectively.

“The moment the IOC indicates that it is thinking about other solutions, it has already decided to delay the Games,” said French Olympic Committee president Denis Masseglia.

Canada and Australia both bluntly said they would not participate if the Games were not put back to 2021 and Britain may follow suit.

“We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport,” said Canada’s Olympic Committee (COC) and Paralympic Committee (CPC) in a statement.

“STRESS AND UNCERTAINTY”

“Our athletes have been magnificent in their positive attitude to training and preparing, but the stress and uncertainty have been extremely challenging for them,” said Australia’s Olympics Chef de Mission, Ian Chesterman.

Paralympic athletes were considered at particular risk from the epidemic given some had underlying health problems. More than 14,600 people have died globally from the coronavirus.

Russia urged global sporting authorities to avoid “panic” over the Olympics and U.S. President Donald Trump expressed confidence in Japan to make the “proper” call.

But a raft of other nations and sports bodies piled pressure on the IOC – and its powerful president Thomas Bach, a former Olympic fencing champion – to make a quick decision on postponement.

“The faster the decision the better it is for the entire Olympic movement,” Greece’s Olympic head, Spyros Capralos, a former water polo player, told Reuters.

“I understand where the athletes are coming from … When you cannot train you are stressed, you live in agony which is disastrous. Postponement is inevitable.”

Athletes were sad but broadly supportive of a delay.

“The right choice was made, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” said Canadian world champion swimmer Maggie MacNeil, who was hoping to make her Olympic debut in Tokyo.

“Sometimes you just need a good hug.”

ABE AND BACH UNDER PRESSURE

Japanese authorities seemed to be bowing to the inevitable despite the losses and logistics headaches it would entail.

“We may have no option but to consider postponing,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was hoping for a boom in tourism and consumer spending, told parliament.

The organizing committee was already scaling back the torch relay to avoid crowds, NHK broadcaster said.

Both Japan and the IOC have stressed that calling off the Games entirely is not an option.

But finding a new date could be complicated as the summer 2021 calendar is already crowded, while 2022 will see the soccer World Cup and the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Japanese sponsors, from Toyota Motor Corp to Panasonic Corp, were nervously watching. But Tokyo stocks sensitive to the success of the Olympics surged on Monday, after sharp falls in prior weeks, thanks to expectations of a delay rather than a cancellation.

Ad agency Dentsu Group shares jumped 12%.

Postponement could be a major blow to the IOC’s prestige after weeks of saying the Games would go ahead as planned.

Many athletes already felt disrespected during the Russian doping scandal when Bach ensured Russians could carry on competing, albeit as neutrals. Now his strong grip on the IOC could weaken after various national committees distanced themselves from his stance over Tokyo.

“IOC President Thomas Bach’s stubbornness and arrogance have spectacularly failed in this instance and he has weakened the Olympic movement,” British Olympic gold medal track cyclist Callum Skinner wrote on Twitter.

Bach is up for re-election in 2021.

Global Athlete Group said the IOC’s planned, month-long consultation was irresponsible. “Over the next four weeks the world is going to increasingly shut down, the COVID-19 virus will sadly take more lives, and without a clear answer, athletes are still being indirectly asked to train,” it said.

(Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux worldwide; Writing by Karolos Grohmann and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean)

Lockdowns and entry bans imposed around the world to fight coronavirus

(Reuters) – France and Spain joined Italy in imposing lockdowns on tens of millions of people, Australia ordered self-isolation of arriving foreigners and other countries extended entry bans as the world sought to contain the spreading coronavirus.

Panic buying in Australia, the United States and Britain saw leaders appeal for calm over the virus that has infected over 156,000 people globally and killed more than 5,800.

Several countries imposed bans on mass gathering, shuttered sporting, cultural and religious events, while medical experts urged people to practice “social distancing” to curb the spread.

Austria’s chancellor urged people to self-isolate and announced bans on gatherings of more than five people and further limits on who can enter the country.

All of Pope Francis’ Easter services next month will be held without the faithful attending, the Vatican said on Sunday, in a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times.

The services, four days of major events from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, usually draw tens of thousands of people to sites in Rome and in the Vatican.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said from midnight Sunday international travelers arriving in the country would need to isolate themselves for 14 days, and foreign cruise ships would be banned for 30 days, given a rise in imported cases.

Australia’s latest restrictions mirror those announced by neighboring New Zealand on Saturday.

TRAVEL BANS, AIRLINE CUTBACKS

Donald Trump tested negative for the coronavirus, his doctor said on Saturday, as the U.S. president extended his country’s travel ban to Britain and Ireland.

Last week, Trump had met a Brazilian delegation in which at least one member has since been tested positive.

Travel restrictions and bans, and a plunge in global air travel, saw further airline cutbacks, with American Airlines Inc planning to cut 75% of international flights through May 6 and ground nearly all its widebody fleet.

China tightened checks on international travelers arriving at Beijing airport on Sunday, after the number of imported new coronavirus infections surpassed locally transmitted cases for a second day in a row.

Anyone arriving to Beijing from abroad will be transferred directly to a central quarantine facility for 14 days for observation starting March 16, a city government official said.

China, where the epidemic began in December, appears to now face a greater threat of new infections from outside its borders as it continues to slow the spread of the virus domestically.

South Korean soldiers clean desks with disinfectant in a classroom of a cram school for civil service exams, following the rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

China has reported 80,984 cases and 3,203 deaths. The country imposed draconian containment policies from January, locking down several major cities.

LOCKDOWNS, STAY HOME

Spain put its 47 million inhabitants under partial lockdown on Saturday as part of a 15-day state of emergency to combat the epidemic in Europe’s second worst-affected country after Italy.

Streets in Madrid and Barcelona were deserted on Sunday. All major newspapers carried a front-page wrapper emblazoned with a government-promoted slogan: “Together we’ll stop this virus.”

Spain has had 193 deaths from the virus and 6,250 cases so far, public broadcaster TVE said on Sunday.

France will shut shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities from Sunday with its 67 million people were told to stay home after confirmed infections doubled in 72 hours.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government had no other option after the public health authority said 91 people had died in France and almost 4,500 were now infected.

“We must absolutely limit our movements,” he said.

However, French local elections went ahead.

“I am going to vote and keep living my life no matter what. I am not scared of the virus,” said a 60-year-old voter, who asked to be identified only as Martine, at a Paris polling station.

Britain is preparing to ban mass gatherings and could isolate people aged over 70 for up to four months as part of plans to tackle coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

Argentina banned entry to non-residents who have been to any country highly affected by coronavirus in the last 14 days, while Colombia said it would expel four Europeans for violating compulsory quarantine protocols, hours after closing its border with Venezuela.

Starting Sunday, South Korea began to subject visitors from France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands to stricter border checks, after imposing similar rules for China, Italy and Iran which have had major outbreaks.

Visitors from those countries now need to download an app to report whether they have symptoms. South Korea has been testing hundreds of thousands of people and tracking potential carriers using cell phone and satellite technology.

(Reporting by John Irish in Paris;Belén Carreño, Sonya Dowsett and Ingrid Melander in Madrid; Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Judy Hua in Beijing; Kate Lamb in Sydney; David Shepardson in Washington; Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Paul Sandle in London; Philip Pullella in Rome; Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi in Zurich; Writing by Michael Perry and Frances Kerry; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Edmund Blair)