Mulhouse: Medical staff move a stretcher towards a helicopter at a hospital in this city in eastern France on Monday. —AFP
Mulhouse: Medical staff move a stretcher towards a helicopter at a hospital in this city in eastern France on Monday. —AFP

ROME: Global emergency efforts to slow the coronavirus pandemic ramped up on Monday with more governments imposing extraordinary lockdowns, as the death toll topped 15,000 and more than one billion people were confined to their homes.

From Germany banning even small gatherings, Italy barring travel, New Zealand announcing a new lockdown and Hong Kong shutting its borders to non-residents, the new round of containment efforts highlighted a deepening sense of panic around the world.

According to a tally, some 1.7 billion people globally have now been asked to stay home in line with mandatory or recommended measures rolled out by governments scrambling to slow the tide of the deadly pandemic.

And with major cultural and sporting already wiped off the calendar, this year’s Tokyo Olympics may be in peril. There are mounting calls to postpone the event and Japan’s prime minister admitted for the first time a delay could be “inevitable”.

Markets on both sides of the Atlantic were hammered again and the virus continued to wreak havoc on the global economy, spurring fears of a global fallout not seen since the Great Depression.

The death toll from the virus surged to more than 15,000, with over 340,000 infections, according to a tally on Monday, with Europe the new epicentre of the outbreak that first emerged in China late last year.

Italy’s world-worst toll from the pandemic approached 5,500 with another 651 deaths reported on Sunday.

Though still high, the daily toll was a slight dip from the previous count, offering a sliver of hope the country may finally be turning a corner.

European nations continued to choke people’s movement, with Greece the latest nation to follow Italy, Spain and France in imposing a nationwide lockdown.

City streets in Greece normally packed with traffic were suddenly deserted as residents stayed inside — leaving the house only for essential trips.

“It’s a bit of a hassle... but these measures are necessary and we’ll get used to them,” said Athens resident Maria Bourras, who leaves her house regularly to walk her dog.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday announced a ban on gatherings of more than two people, before putting herself in quarantine after learning she had been treated by an infected doctor.

Her office said Monday the 65-year-old was “doing well” and awaiting coronavirus test results.

Italy banned travel and shut down a range of industries and businesses on Monday, a new wave of restrictions designed to finally slow the rate of deaths and infections.

Residents in locked-down Italy were finding creative ways to pass the time indoors as shut-in measures neared the two-week mark.

“Since I can’t go out, I do gymnastic exercises in my house. I drink at least five times a day: I’ve got five glasses of water lined up in my kitchen so I don’t forget!” 86-year-old Rome resident Carla Basagni said.

Meanwhile, Spain readied to extend its state of emergency, which bars people from leaving home unless absolutely essential, until April 11.

It reported another spike in fatalities Monday, bringing its total to 2,182 dead — the third highest in the world after Italy and China.

Residents across France, where the death toll jumped to 674, also remained shut in their homes and the government said lockdown measures could extend past the end of March.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2020