Disruption frenzy: Nations try to slow virus, aid economies
BERLIN (AP) — Mass disruptions shuddered around the globe as governments struggled to slow the spread of the coronavirus while trying to keep afloat their economies. The impact included border traffic jams in Lithuania, the deaths of 17 elderly residents in one Madrid nursing home and a bus service halt in Detroit when drivers didn’t show up for work.
European Union leaders agreed to shut down the bloc’s external borders for 30 days. The final U.S. state to confirm a case, West Virginia, showed the virus has spread nationwide, and entertainment shutdowns reached the glitzy casinos on the Las Vegas Strip as Nevada’s governor ordered all non-essential businesses to close.
The administration of President Donald Trump was considering a plan to immediately return to Mexico all people who cross the southern border illegally, according to two administration officials who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the plan hasn’t been finalized.
Increasingly worried about the economic fallout of the global shutdown, the U.S., Britain and the Netherlands announced rescue packages totaling hundreds of billions of dollars, while longtime International Monetary Fund critic Venezuela asked the institution for a $5 billion loan.
But it was everyday people who suffered most.
Miguel Aguirre, his wife and two children were the only people on a normally bustling street near San Francisco’s City Hall, a day after six area counties issued a “shelter-in-place” order requiring most residents to leave their homes only for food, medicine or exercise for three weeks — the most sweeping lockdown in the U.S. On Tuesday morning, only two coffee shops on the street were open. Both were empty.
Aguirre said he and his wife, janitors at a Boys and Girls Club, heard about the order on TV, but showed up to work anyway because they need the money. His supervisor texted him to leave.
“If we don’t work, we don’t eat,” said Aguirre, who brought his two daughters along because schools were shuttered. He had already lost his second job, at a hotel, when tourism conferences began canceling a month ago.
In Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said there had been “a unanimous and united approach,” to the decision to prohibit most foreigners from entering the EU for 30 days.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European leaders agreed in a conference call to the commission’s proposal for an entry ban to the bloc — along with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Britain — with “very, very limited exceptions.” Germany will implement the decision immediately.
On Monday, the EU issued guidelines to ease the flow of critical goods like food and medicine, while helping individual nations restrict non-essential travel.
But on Tuesday it was chaos on many borders with traffic backed up for dozens of kilometers (miles).
“We are all desperate, cold and sleepless here for a third day,” said Janina Stukiene, who was stuck in Lithuania on the border with Poland with her husband and son. “We just want to go home.”
The line of cars and trucks in Lithuania was about 60 kilometers (37 miles) long after Poland closed its border. Similar traffic jams were visible on the borders with Germany and the Czech Republic.
French President Emmanuel Macron tightened internal guidelines, allowing people to leave home only to buy food, go to work or do essential tasks. He said people had not complied with earlier guidelines and “we are at war.”
In Italy, infections jumped to 27,980. With 2,503 deaths, Italy accounts for a third of the global death toll.
Spain, the fourth-most infected country, saw its cases rise by more than 2,000 in one day to 11,178. Deaths from COVID-19 jumped to 491, a toll that included 17 elderly residents of a Madrid nursing home who died over five days.
Among them was the 86-year-old diabetic grandmother of Ainhoa Ruiz.
“We feel totally helpless and devastated because my grandma spent her last week only with her husband and caretakers but no other relatives,” Ruiz said, adding that her main worry is now the health of her grandfather, who is 87 and remained by his wife during her last days.
The global number of cases worldwide exceeds 198,000, though 81,000 of them have recovered, mostly in China.
The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but severe illness is more likely in the elderly and people with existing health problems. COVID-19 has killed over 7,900 people.
As the pandemic intensified in Europe and spread deeper into the Americas and Africa, the ebbing of cases where the virus was first detected late last year was dramatic. The central Chinese city of Wuhan reported just one new case Wednesday for the second day, after seeing thousands of new cases per day at its peak.
Major Asian stock markets were higher Wednesday after Wall Street rebounded on Trump’s promise of aid to get the U.S. economy through the pandemic. Still, a growing number of traders see a recession likely, if not already here.
The White House proposed a roughly $850 billion rescue package — a sweeping stimulus not seen since the Great Recession of 2008 — and called for its rapid approval. It would provide relief for small businesses, $50 billion for the airline industry and a big tax cut for wage-earners, said two people familiar with the request who described it on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
In Britain, the government unveiled a massive economic support package. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government will “act like any wartime government and do whatever it takes to support the economy.”
Among the measures, Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the government would provide 330 billion pounds ($405 billion) worth of government-backed loans and guarantees for small and large businesses.
In the U.S., the death toll surpassed 100, and officials urged older Americans and those with health problems to stay home. They also recommended all group gatherings be capped at 10 people. California’s governor said most of the state’s schools would probably be closed until the fall.
The pandemic roiled U.S. primary elections Tuesday in four states. Ohio called off the vote hours before polls were to open but voting went on in Illinois, Arizona and Florida. The big question was whether coronavirus would affect turnout.
Problems arose, including in Florida, which has the most delegates up for grabs. In one county, two dozen poll workers dropped out, leaving staff scrambling to train replacements. “We are at the honest end of the rope,” Elections Supervisor Paul Lux said.
New York City’s mayor warned that residents should be prepared for the possibility of a shelter-in-place order within days. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wants city and state officials to decide within 48 hours, given the fast spread of the virus.
In Britain, Johnson told people to eliminate unnecessary contact with others, work from home where possible and avoid bars, restaurants, theaters and other venues. Schools remained open for the time being.
Some scientists, and many worried Britons, have said the government should have acted sooner.
Britain’s dramatic escalation of restrictions was sparked by new scientific evidence suggesting 250,000 people in the U.K. and more than 1 million in the U.S. might die if the country did not suppress the disease’s spread.
The analysis, published by Imperial College London, drew on the latest data from China and Italy. It found that a strategy of “mitigation” — slowing but not stopping the spread of the virus while protecting vulnerable groups like the elderly — would still lead to a huge number of cases that would overwhelm the health care system.
And in Detroit, bus riders were stranded after most drivers didn’t report to work, apparently concerned about the virus and confused as to whether Michigan’s new public gathering restrictions included vehicles loaded with commuters.
The city’s bus service was canceled at 8 a.m. Surprised riders tried to get rides from family and friends.
“Just now?” a maintenance man, Amadou Sanders, asked. “How am I going to get to work?”
Sullivan reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego, Colleen Long in Washington, Alan Clendenning in Phoenix, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Frank Jordans, Kirsten Grieshaber and Geir Moulson in Berlin; Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco, Ed White in Detroit, Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Adam Geller in New York, Mike Corder in Amsterdam, Jill Lawless and Maria Cheng in London, Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania, Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy and Karel Janicek in Prague.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.