Spotlight: More countries heighten measures to fight COVID-19
BEIJING, March 16 (Xinhua) -- More countries have locked down their cities and cut interest rates to combat the COVID-19 outbreak as the pandemic is fast spreading worldwide and claiming more lives.
A total of 153,517 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus infection were reported globally as of Sunday morning, and 144 countries and regions have been affected by the virus, according to the daily situation report released by the World Health Organization (WHO).
MORE PLACES ON LOCKDOWN
In Europe, the epicenter of COVID-19, more than 45,000 cases were reported by over 50 countries and regions as of Sunday morning, according to the WHO report. In response, many European nations have ramped up their measures to contain the virus.
The Czech government has banned the free movement of people across the country, except going to work or medical facilities or buying basic necessities, from Monday till March 24.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Sunday the eastern Mediterranean island is in a state of emergency. His cabinet has decided to ban entry of any foreigner without a health certificate from a recognized facility in their country of origin issued within the last four days, with all private businesses being ordered to shut down.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Sunday announced a state of emergency in his country, with measures taken including closure of schools and kindergartens, and controlled measures of isolation, warning people that violate the measures will face a three-year jail term.
The Irish government on Sunday issued a statement calling for the closure of all pubs and bars across Ireland from Sunday evening until at least March 29 as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country had soared to 169.
Latin America has also tightened its measures to suppress the coronavirus outbreak. Chile has suspended classes at the elementary, secondary and university level in Santiago and 20 other cities.
Argentine President Alberto Fernandez has announced his government will suspend classes and close the borders for 15 days.
In Mexico, educational authorities announced they were prolonging the two-week Holy Week holiday to four weeks, meaning some 250,000 public schools and universities will close from March 20 to April 17.
Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra declared on Sunday a state of emergency, ordering borders to be closed and people to stay home, while Honduras was to close its borders one minute before midnight and ordered the suspension of most businesses.
The Iraqi Crisis Committee, headed by Iraqi Health Minister Jaafar Sadiq Allawi, decided Sunday to impose a week-long curfew in Baghdad on March 17-23. The committee also authorized provincial governors to impose a curfew in their provinces.
The Australian Capital Territory declared on Monday a public health state of emergency amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, following similar measures in South Australia over the weekend, with more states and territories to follow suit.
The Federal Open Market Committee, the policy-making committee of the U.S. Federal Reserve, on Sunday decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 0-0.25 percent.
"The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals," said the Fed.
This was the Fed's second unprecedented emergency rate cut since the 2008 financial crisis.
Economists predict the U.S. economy will contract in the second quarter amid mounting fears about the economic impact of the global spread of the coronavirus.
About 55 business and academic economists recently polled by The Wall Street Journal predict, on average, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) to contract at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the second quarter due to the pandemic.
That is a large downgrade from the forecasts made in February, when those economists expected the U.S. GDP to grow by 1.9 percent from April to June, the poll showed.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) cut the official cash rate by 0.75 percent to 0.25 percent for the next 12 months on Monday as an emergency stimulus to the economy.
"The negative economic implications of the COVID-19 virus continue to rise warranting further monetary stimulus ... The negative impact on the New Zealand economy is, and will continue to be, significant," said the RBNZ in a statement.
The government of Italy, the country hardest hit by COVID-19 in Europe, is drawing up a fresh multi-billion-euro decree with measures to support the hard-hit economic sectors, workers, and families, according to a draft viewed by Italian news agency ANSA.
In Africa, Morocco announced setting up a fund worth 1.07 billion U.S. dollars to support the public health sector to confront the COVID-19 outbreak, mainly to cover the urgent costs of upgrading its infrastructure.
UN economists estimate that the virus could cost the global economy at least 1 trillion dollars this year, and perhaps more, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday in a video message.