Switzerland has today banned all events involving more than 1,000 people in a drastic bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The Swiss government announced the emergency measure today and said it will last until at least March 15.
The move comes as the world teeters on the brink of a pandemic, with Mexico now reporting its first two cases – among only a handful in Central and Southern America.
Nigeria also confirmed the first case of the virus in Sub-Saharan Africa on Friday, in a patient who had flown to the megacity of Lagos.
The country was among among several to confirm their first cases in recent hours including the likes of Estonia, Denmark, the Netherlands and Lithuania.
The majority of those countries reported the infection in a person who had travelled to Italy, including the first patient diagnosed in Mexico.
Swiss customs officers distribute brochures on the Swiss-Italian border yesterday as they try to stop the outbreak in northern Italy causing a health crisis in Switzerland
An ambulance worker puts on a protective suit as he prepares for a coronavirus outbreak in Mendrision, Switzerland
Cars in an exhibition hall ahead of the Geneva Motor Show – which will now be cancelled because of the Swiss ban on events involving more than 1,000 people
This graph shows how new infections in South Korea (blue line) have outpaced those in mainland China (red line) in recent days
A map showing the latest numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths worldwide, with infections gathering pace outside mainland China
Mexican health authorities said their first patient is linked to Italy, having returned from the country recently.
His case is connected to a second confirmed case in the northern state of Sinaloa, Lopez-Gatell added. Both patients have been placed in isolation.
“Due to the epidemiological association with the other case, it is confirmed,” he told a regular news conference.
Swiss officials said the ban on ‘public and private events’ is intended to ‘prevent or delay the spread of the disease in Switzerland, thus reducing its momentum’.
The move will affect events including concerts, the Basel Carnival, the Geneva Motor Show and matches in the Swiss Football League.
Nigeria confirms first-case in sub-Saharan Africa
Coronavirus reached sub-Saharan Africa today as Nigeria confirmed its first case.
The first patient is an Italian citizen who had returned from Milan earlier this week, with northern Italy at the centre of Europe’s worst outbreak so far.
The case in Nigeria’s economic hub, Lagos, has stirred memories of the Ebola outbreak which hit the megacity six years ago.
Nigeria’s economic hub Lagos confirmed a case of new coronavirus on Friday, stirring memories of the fears sparked six years ago when West Africa’s Ebola epidemic hit the chaotic megacity of 20 million.
‘The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms,’ health minister Osagie Ehanire said.
The patient was being treated at a hospital for infectious diseases in Lagos, the minister said.
The low number of cases so far across Africa, which has close economic ties with China, has puzzled health specialists.
Prior to the case in Nigeria, there had been just two cases on the continent – in Egypt and Algeria.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with some 190million people.
In 2014, the first case of Ebola confirmed in the city from the outbreak that swept West Africa set off alarm bells across the globe and unleashed a wave of panic among residents.
In the end Lagos escaped relatively lightly and only seven people died from a total of 19 infected, a number dwarfed by the overall toll of 11,000 deaths across the region from 2013 to 2016.
The Lagos state health authorities reacted quickly, medical experts from international organisations in the country deployed from the capital Abuja and the disease was confined to the upscale neighbourhoods in the city.
This time around officials insist that the country has made its preparations for a potential coronavirus outbreak.
Experts say the oil-rich economic powerhouse is better prepared to deal with any disease epidemics than some of its poorer neighbours in the region.
But the government is criticised for not spending enough on health and crumbling infrastructure, corruption and the departure of doctors to better paying jobs abroad have eaten away at the sector.
Switzerland has already confirmed 15 cases of the virus, and officials expect the outbreak to get worse because of the crisis over the border in northern Italy.
South Korea reported 571 new infections, bringing its total from 1,766 to 2,337.
Iran’s death toll has risen by eight, reaching 34 today, with Friday prayers cancelled in Tehran and the city of Qom at the centre of the outbreak.
Meanwhile Nigeria has confirmed the first case in sub-Saharan Africa, saying the patient was an Italian citizen who had recently returned from Milan.
The global count of those sickened by the virus is nearing 84,000, with the virus now spreading more rapidly outside China.
Mainland China saw another sharp fall in its rate of infections today with 327 new cases, the lowest number since January, and 44 deaths.
China’s update brings the country’s total number of cases to 78,824 and deaths to 2,788.
Friday’s figure in mainland China was the lowest rise in new cases since January 24, when 259 new infections were reported.
The rate of deaths in China has also slowed, with yesterday’s fatality toll of 29 the lowest in nearly a month.
But infections in other countries are gathering pace, with the World Health Organization warning that the coronavirus epidemic was at a ‘decisive point’.
More than 3,600 infections have been reported outside mainland China, with 70 deaths.
Even China is now worried about importing cases and has ordered people arriving in Beijing from affected countries to go into a 14-day self-quarantine.
The coronavirus has appeared in several new countries in recent days – Brazil, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Northern Macedonia, Pakistan and Romania – bringing the number of countries affected to more than 45.
The Swiss ban on ‘large-scale events involving more than 1,000 people’ will take effect immediately.
‘In the case of public or private events at which fewer than 1,000 people would gather, event organisers must carry out a risk assessment in conjunction with the competent [regional] authorities to decide whether or not the event can be held,’ authorities said.
Health minister Alain Berset said that similar measures had proved ‘effective’ in other countries.
The government said it was ‘aware that this measure will have a significant impact on public life in Switzerland’ but added that ‘it should prevent or delay the spread of the disease, thus reducing its momentum’.
The health minister told reporters that the number of cases in Switzerland was ‘not a surprise for us’, adding: ‘We have to expect an increase in cases in the next few days’.
The measure will affect the annual Geneva Motor Show, which was due to take place from March 5-15 and draws tens of thousands of visitors every year.
Football fixtures are also likely to be affected. The five teams due to play at home this weekend all had more than 1,000 spectators in their last home games.
The matches could now be postponed or played in front of empty stadiums.
Elsewhere in Europe, the Netherlands has confirmed its first two cases with both patients recently having travelled in Italy. One of the cases was detected in Amsterdam.
In South Korea, the hardest-hit country outside China, another 256 cases have been reported, raising its total to 2,022.
Most of the new cases were in Daegu – the city at the epicentre of the country’s outbreak – and neighbouring North Gyeongsang province, officials say, with the death toll remaining at 13.
South Korea’s total is expected to increase further after checks began on more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive entity often accused of being a cult, linked to around half of the nation’s cases.
A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on February 10, but attended at least four church services in Daegu – the country’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5million – before being diagnosed.
Health workers in protective suits, masks and goggles spray disinfectant on a street in Seoul yesterday with South Korea experiencing another surge in cases
A Chinese security guard wears a protective mask as he checks the temperature of people entering a residential building in Beijing earlier this week
Workers who had been preparing for the Geneva Motor Show sit and stand in an exhibition hall today after the event was cancelled because of Switzerland’s emergency measures
The coronavirus crisis has spooked South Korea’s financial markets, led Hyundai Motor to shut down one of its plants and prompted boy band BTS to cancel its April concert.
Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin said the city’s total could reach as many as 3,000 in the coming days as Shincheonji members test results appear, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
‘The next one week will be the tipping point,’ he said.
Daegu’s streets have been largely deserted for days with many stores and restaurants temporarily closing, but face masks were becoming more widely available on Friday.
Authorities have urged the public to exercise extra caution, advising citizens to stay home if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms.
But they say they are not considering putting the city in lockdown as China did for Wuhan, where the virus first emerged.
Meanwhie, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe called for schools across the country to close for weeks, a decision that impacted 12.8million students.
‘The most important thing is to prevent infections’, said Norinobu Sawada, vice principal of Koizumi primary school, ‘so there aren’t many other options’.
There are also growing fears over the Tokyo Olympics, with thousands of athletes and spectators due to descend on Japan for the Games which start in July.
Organisers said today that they would announce next week whether the 121-day torch relay would be scaled back.
Workers in protective overalls enter a supermarket in Beijing yesterday, with new coronavirus infections now tapering off in mainland China
A woman wears a mask and goggles as she cycles on a street in Beijing earlier this week. China today recorded its lowest number of new infections since January
In Iran, the front line of infections in the Middle East, the death toll reached 34 today after another eight fatalities were confirmed.
An additional 143 infections have been detected over the past 24 hours, raising the total number of cases to 388, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
It is the highest number of new cases for a single day since Iran announced its first confirmed infections on February 19.
Amid a shortage of medical equipment, officials loosened rules barring the import of many foreign-made items to allow in sanitisers, face masks and other necessities.
They also removed overhead handles on Tehran’s subways to eliminate another source of germs.
Friday prayers have been cancelled in Tehran as well as the holy city of Qom at the centre of the outbreak.
In a similar move in Germany, Cologne’s historic cathedral is emptying its basins of holy water to prevent the spread of infection.
In the U.S., the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is postponing a key April meeting of its top global leaders.
The holy city of Mecca, which Muslims are called to visit at least once in their lives, and the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina were cut off to potentially millions of pilgrims, with Saudi Arabia making the extraordinary decision to stop the spread of the virus.
With the monarchy offering no firm date for the lifting of the restrictions, it posed the possibility of affecting those planning to make their hajj, a ritual beginning at the end of July this year.
‘We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm’, the country said in announcing the decision.
Commuters wearing protective face masks walk out of the Bangkok Transport System in Thailand yesterday, where dozens of people hav ebeen infected
People wearing face masks walk in front of giant Olympic rings at a waterfront area in Tokyo, amid growing doubts over the Games
Peru put specialists on round-the-clock shifts at its biggest airport, Argentina took the temperature of some new arrivals and El Salvador added bans for travellers from Italy and South Korea.
The Dominican Republic turned back a cruise ship carrying 1,500 people because eight of those aboard showed potential symptoms of the Covid-19 virus.
And in Africa, South Africa’s president ordered the evacuation of citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus outbreak began.
An Italian citizen who entered Nigeria on February 25 from Milan has also been confirmed as the first positive case in sub-Saharan Africa.
Meanwhile virus fears have prompted Asian stock markets to fall after Wall Street endured its biggest one-day drop in nine years.
Tokyo’s benchmark fell by an unusually wide margin of 3.4 per cent and Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul all dropped by more than two per cent.
On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index is down 12 per cent from its all-time high a week ago.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday that the world was at a ‘decisive point’ and countries could still contain the epidemic if they ‘act aggressively now’.
‘No country should assume it won’t get cases; that could be a fatal mistake, quite literally. This virus does not respect borders,’ Tedros said in Geneva.
The WHO has voiced particular concern about Africa’s preparedness, warning at the weekend that the continent’s health care systems were ill-equipped to respond.