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March 18, 2020

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Travelers stranded as Euro nations close borders

TRAFFIC jams swelled along borders and some travelers appealed to their governments for help getting home yesterday as countries in Europe and beyond imposed strict controls along their frontiers aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Tens of millions around the world are already hunkered down in government-ordered isolation after many countries ordered stores, schools and businesses shut down to combat the pandemic. The border closures stopped not only people but also needed goods.

Lines of cars and trucks grew after Poland largely closed its border to foreigners. In Lithuania, trucks seeking to enter Poland backed up in a line 60 kilometers long, while similar traffic jams could be seen on the borders with Germany and the Czech Republic.

Lithuania was sending military airplanes and special trains to Germany to help hundreds of its citizens stranded at the crossing points with Poland.

To try to help citizens from Estonia and Lithuania get home following closure of the Polish border, German police organized vehicles to a ferry port on one of its Baltic Sea islands.

Germany launched a 50-million-euro (US$56 million) effort to bring home thousands stranded in winter vacation spots across the globe, including up to 5,000 in Morocco.

“Even if we will do everything humanly possible, we cannot in every case provide a solution within 24 hours,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned.

Turkey planned to evacuate 3,614 citizens stranded in nine European countries after flights were suspended, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Regional authorities in Spain’s Balearic Islands effectively locked down the Mediterranean archipelago by restricting all but a handful of daily flights and incoming boats for returning island residents.

Spain, now the fourth most infected country, saw the number of people with the virus rise by more than 2,000 in one day to 11,178 and virus-related deaths jump by almost 200 to 491. Only China, Italy and Iran had more infections.

With the number of global cases topping 185,000, a surge of patients in Madrid’s hospitals has fueled worries in Europe and elsewhere of what lies ahead.

In Italy, reported infection jumped to 27,980. With 2,158 deaths, Italy now accounts for well over a quarter of the global death toll.

Malaysia banned foreign travel and is allowing only essential services to stay open. France allowed people to leave home only to buy food, go to work, or do essential tasks. French President Emmanuel Macron said the restrictions were tightened because earlier guidelines were ignored and “we are at war.”

In the United States, officials urged the elderly and those with chronic health conditions to stay home, and recommended all group gatherings be capped at 10 people. Americans returning from abroad faced chaotic airport health screenings that clearly broke all virus-fighting rules against crowds.

India shut down the Taj Mahal to visitors. Most schools and entertainment facilities were already closed across India.

Thailand said it was calling off its water festival in April.

Britain ramped up its response to the outbreak after the government imposed unprecedented peacetime measures, prompted by scientific advice that infections and deaths would spiral without drastic action.

More firms had staff working from home and public transport emptied after the government called for an end to “non-essential” social contact and unnecessary travel as confirmed cases crossed 1,500 and deaths rose to 55.


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