France has warned it may start turning travellers from Britain away unless the UK adopts a similar near-total lockdown to those in place in other European countries.
With EU governments including Italy, Spain and France requiring citizens to stay at home to curb the coronavirus, and Rome threatening to tighten restrictions further, the French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, has said that if the UK does not follow suit soon, arrivals from Britain could be refused entry.
“Everyone in the EU must adopt logical methods and processes to fight against the epidemic,” Philippe said. “It’s obvious that if neighbouring states like the UK leave it too long, we would have difficulty allowing British citizens who are moving freely around their country to come to France.”
France, which has reported 9,134 confirmed cases and 264 deaths, on Monday closed all non-essential shops and ordered people not go out unless to do essential shopping, travel to a job that cannot be done from home, visit the doctor or take brief exercise.
The interior minister, Christophe Castaner, described people who ignored the rules, which police are enforcing with fines of €135, as “imbeciles”. While schools will close from Friday, Britain has yet to bring in mandatory social-distancing measures, with people urged – but not ordered – to avoid “non-essential contact”.
Similar Italian measures introduced earlier this month “must be extended beyond their original deadline”, the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, told the Corriere della Sera on Thursday. At present, people may leave home only for justified work or medical reasons until 3 April, while most shops are closed until 25 March.
Conte added that “if the prohibitions are not respected, we will have to act again”. Ministers had earlier said the rules may be may tightened to include a complete ban on all outdoor activities, including exercise, after 47,000 people across the country were fined in one week for going out “without good reason”.
Italy, the European country worst hit by the pandemic, has reported more than 35,000 infections and nearly 3,000 deaths, including a record daily high of 475 on Wednesday. An army spokesman confirmed on Thursday that soldiers had removed bodies from the northern town of Bergamo, where funeral services are overwhelmed.
There are nearly 221,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, and 8,957 people have died.
In Germany, where non-essential shops have been shut, public gatherings cancelled and citizens advised to stay at home as much as possible, authorities were considering imposing mandatory lockdowns after the chancellor, Angela Merkel, called the epidemic the country’s “biggest challenge since the second world war”.
Concerns are mounting in Berlin, Bavaria and other states that people are continuing to socialise outside. “If people do not voluntarily follow restrictions, the only measure that remains is a state-wide confinement in order to react to that. Everybody needs to realise that,” the Bavarian state premier, Markus Söder, said on Thursday.
The mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, said he was appalled by the lack of consideration many Berliners were showing. “People do not understand. It is unacceptable that people are actually inviting each other to corona parties. It is terrible!” he said.
Germany, which has reported 12,853 cases and 34 deaths, is also considering tracking mobile phone data to check whether Germans are sufficiently reducing their movements. Deutsche Telekom has given the go-ahead to anonymous data use for the project, which has yet to secure government approval.
In Spain, which has reported 12,000 cases and nearly 500 deaths, alarm is increasing at the spread of the virus in the country’s care homes. The death toll in care homes in the Madrid region has exceeded 50, authorities said, while as many as 25 outbreaks have been confirmed in care homes in the Castilla La Mancha region.
The Spanish army has begun producing hand-sanitiser, the company that owns Zara has said it will use its facilities to start sewing hospital gowns, and small clothing manufactures are making masks, while two vacant hotels in Madrid are being turned into makeshift hospitals.
As economies across the continent went into nosedive, the European Central Bank on Wednesday night announced a €750bn economic stimulus programme lasting until the end of 2020. “Extraordinary times require extraordinary action,” the bank’s chief, Christine Lagarde, said.
The European commission said it aims to build a €50m (£46m) stockpile of masks, protective clothing and ventilators to help EU countries facing shortages of vital medical kit. The move comes after commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said China had offered to send Europe 2m surgical masks and 50,000 testing kits.
Von der Leyen said the EU had sent China 50,000 tonnes of protective equipment in January, adding that the union was “very grateful” for Beijing’s help.
In other developments:
Iran detected 1,046 new cases in the past day, bringing the total to 18,407, and 149 deaths for a total of 1,284.
Russia registered its first coronavirus death on Thursday, a 79-year-old woman being treated in a Moscow hospital.
Ireland’s parliament is due to pass emergency laws on Thursday allowing authorities to impose lockdown by decree.
France closed Mediterranean and Atlantic beaches, and the Sacre-Coeur basilica overlooking Paris was also closed for the first time since it was built in 1914.
New Zealand and Australia closed their borders to all non-residents and non-citizens from midnight on Thursday and 9pm on Friday, respectively.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, confined residents to their homes for three weeks and closed the country’s borders with Greece and Bulgaria.
The chief executive of the German airline Lufthansa said governments might need to save the industry after grounding 90% of its planes.
The death toll in Indonesia has risen from five to 25.
The EU’s industry chief called on Netflix and other streaming services to switch to standard from high definition as millions confined to their homes go online.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said he had been tested positive.
In the US, Donald Trump, describing himself as himself a wartime president, invoked rarely used emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies against the epidemic and signed an aid package guaranteeing sick leave to workers who fall ill.
Meanwhile, China, where the virus originated, on Thursday reported no new cases of Covid-19 acquired inside the country for the first time, but announced a rise in the number of infections from abroad.
Beijing recorded 21 new infections from abroad, mostly in travellers from Britain and Spain. The capital has halted self-quarantine for travellers arriving from abroad, authorities said on Thursday, with non-transit travellers sent to designated sites for a compulsory 14-day quarantine.
If no more cases are reported in Wuhan, the centre of the global outbreak, for 14 consecutive days, the city’s lockdown – in place since 23 January – could be lifted, local media said. Quarantine rules have already been slightly eased, allowing people to work in their compounds rather than staying confined to living quarters.