JEDDAH: The world was on the brink of global lockdown on Sunday as country after country imposed tough new travel restrictions, quarantined visitors or closed their borders completely in the face of the greatest threat to human health in more than a century.
Authorities in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas were forced to appeal for calm as the death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, reached more than 5,800, with at least 156,000 people infected worldwide.
New travel, flight and quarantine regulations were declared in Australia, Austria, Argentina, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Lebanon, Mexico the Netherlands, the Philippines, Spain and Turkey, added to the countries that have already tightened their borders and curbed freedom of movement.
They include Saudi Arabia, which has taken the most comprehensive steps among the Gulf states by halting international passenger flights, canceling Umrah pilgrimages and locking down the eastern Qatif region.
Saudi Arabia on Sunday ordered the closure of malls, restaurants, coffee shops and public parks and gardens. Supermarkets, pharmacies and food delivery are exempt.
There are 118 confirmed cases of the virus in Saudi Arabia. Three patients have made a full recovery and are in good health, with the third discharged on Sunday from Dammam Medical Complex.
In Lebanon, President Michel Aoun declared a medical state of emergency, and closed the border with Syria except for fruit and vegetable deliveries. “Each of us is called upon to continue his work, from home, in the way he sees appropriate,” Aoun said in a TV address. Banks are expected to close until March 29.
Security forces were deployed on Beirut’s corniche to disperse crowds.
Elsewhere, Turkey quarantined 10,000 pilgrims who had returned from Saudi Arabia, Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem was closed indefinitely, and Palestinian officials said President Mahmoud Abbas, 85, who has age-related health issues, was no longer receiving guests.
Iran, where most Middle East virus cases originate and 724 people have died, admitted on Sunday that the pandemic could overwhelm its health care system.
“If the trend continues, there will not be enough capacity,” said Ali Reza Zali, the health official leading the campaign against the outbreak.