Virus outbreak reshaping work and play around the globe

Patients are moved from Daegu medical centre in the western city of Daegu.

Patients are moved from Daegu medical centre in the western city of Daegu. Photo: Getty

Italy has closed all schools and universities and Iran has again cancelled Friday prayers as governments scramble to control the spread of coronavirus.

With the virus now reported in more than 80 countries, governments around the world are instituting increasingly sweeping measures to insulate against the outbreak.

Saudi Arabia has barred citizens from making Hajj – the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca – while Iran has cancelled Friday prayers for a second week.

Leaders everywhere are pleading with citizens to put an end to the traditional symbol of mutual trust, the handshake.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also urged people to adopt the Indian greeting of “namaste,” with hands together, rather than a handshake.

In Europe, the Italian government decreed on Wednesday (local time) soccer games and other sporting events will take place without fans until at least April 3.

Italy is the epicentre of the continent’s coronavirus outbreak. More than 3000 people have been infected and at least 107 have died, the most of any country outside China.

It has also closed schools for 8.4 million students until March 15, with at least four other countries – Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq – taking similar action.

“I know it’s a decision with an impact … I obviously want my students back in school as soon as possible,” said Education Minister Lucia Azzolina.

With the disease ebbing in the place where it began, Italy, Iran and South Korea are confronting deadly, fast-growing clusters of the disease that account for about 80 per cent of new cases outside China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In all, more than 94,000 people have contracted the virus worldwide, with more than 3200 deaths.

In the United States, the death toll has reached 11.

Iran has reported 92 deaths among its more than 2900 cases, though many fear the outbreak is far bigger.

Among the ill are dozens of members of the government. The Islamic republic has cancelled Friday prayers to avoid public gatherings.

“The virus has no wings to fly,” said Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour.

“We are the ones who transfer it to each other.”

WHO said about 3.4 per cent of people infected with the COVID-19 virus globally have died, making it more lethal than the common flu.

But that figure was met to skepticism, with scientists noting large numbers of mild cases have probably gone undetected or unreported.

A study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine of data from more than 30 Chinese provinces estimated the death rate at 1.4 per cent.

In Daegu, the South Korean city at the centre of that country’s outbreak, a shortage of hospital space means about 2300 patients are being cared for in other facilities while they await a hospital bed.

Prime Minister Chung Se-Kyun has sought to assure his country, saying, “We will win the war against COVID-19.”

South Korea reported 435 new infections Wednesday, down from 851 a day earlier. More than 5600 people in South Korea have contracted the virus and 32 have died.

French soccer officials told players to simply disperse – without shaking hands – after lining up, and referees and coaches will no longer shake hands either.

In Paris, the Louvre finally reopened after closing because of fears among workers about catching the virus from visitors but it will no longer accept cash because of the danger of germs.

The Louvre has reopened its doors – but no money will be changing hands. Photo: Getty

Israel’s chief rabbi urged observant Jews to refrain from kissing the mezuza, the small box containing a prayer scroll that is posted by Jews on their doorposts.

China reported 119 new cases Wednesday, all but five in the outbreak’s epicentre of Wuhan.

-with agencies

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