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Austria Cancels Weddings, Baptisms, Funerals

The Latest on the world’s coronavirus pandemic:

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said religious leaders have agreed to cancel weddings, baptisms, funeral services and other ceremonies in the coming weeks to help prevent spread of the new coronavirus.

Kurz said Thursday the measures were part of efforts to enforcing “social distancing” that also includes closing middle schools and high schools beginning Monday and postpone local elections March 22 in the state of Styria. Burials are still allowed.

He added that further measures would be announced Friday. Austria has 302 confirmed cases.

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Oregon has banned all gatherings of more than 250 people statewide for four weeks to try to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

The order was issued by Gov. Kate Brown, who said “it’s time for us all to do what we can to slow its spread.”

Officials assume that thousands of Oregonians will get the new coronavirus. Brown, who was to speak at a news conference Thursday in Portland, said all non-essential school gatherings and activities should be canceled — such as parent meetings, field trips and competitions.

She also recommended businesses increase the physical distances between employees, limit travel and stagger work schedules.

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The Philippine president has suspended domestic travel to and from the Manila area for a month and authorized sweeping quarantines in the region to fight the new coronavirus.

President Rodrigo Duterte also banned large gatherings in the capital, suspended most government work and extended the suspension of classes by a month in new restrictions announced Thursday in a nationwide TV address.

He warned that violators and officials who refuse to enforce the restrictions would face possible imprisonment. But he insisted “this is not martial law.”

Health officials in the Asian nation have confirmed 52 infections and two deaths.

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Singapore’s Islamic Religious Council says all mosques in the city state will close beginning Friday for at least five days for disinfection.

It says all activities, religious classes and lectures will also be halted for two weeks. The council says the move is intended to minimize the spread of the virus after two men, out of 90 Singaporeans who attended a recent mass religious gathering in Kuala Lumpur, were diagnosed with the virus.

With the suspension of obligatory Friday prayers for Muslim males at mosques, it said sermons will be carried online. Malaysian authorities say 10,000 people, half of them foreigners, participated in the four-day religious event in late February at a mosque in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.

Malaysia has reported 149 infections.

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The Dutch government has banned gatherings of more than 100 people until the end of the month in an effort to control the spread of the new coronavirus.

Health and Sports Minister Bruno Bruins said the far-reaching measure would cover events and venues such as sports clubs, museums and theaters. He also urged people to stay home if they have symptoms and to work from home if possible.

The Netherlands has 614 confirmed cases of the virus and five deaths.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the government had decided not to close schools yet.

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Azerbaijan is reporting its first death of a patient infected with coronavirus, a woman who had recently returned from Iran who had underlying health issues.

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Hospitals in Italy’s hard-hit Lombardy region, already overwhelmed trying to care for the increasing number of sick people in limited intensive care units, are overflowing with the dead.

Lombardy’s top health care official, Giulio Gallera, said at the request of the hospitals, the region had simplified the bureaucracy needed to process death certificates and bury the dead, which in Lombardy alone had reached 617 by late Wednesday.

Italian officials have halted both weddings and funerals for a month in their efforts to control Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak. The country has nearly 12,500 infections and has seen 827 deaths overall.

Worldwide, 126,000 people have been infected with the new coronavirus, 68,000 have recovered and 4,600 have died.

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Borders are re-emerging in Europe due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Czech government declared a state of emergency Thursday due to coronavirus and was renewing border checks at its borders with Austria and Germany.

People will be banned from crossing in at any other place. The measure, effective Friday at midnight, was approved Thursday.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said people from 13 risk countries that include not only China, South Korea and Iran but also EU nations such as Italy, Spain, France, Austria and Germany as well Britain will not be allowed to enter the Czech Republic.

In addition, Czech citizens are not allowed to travel to those countries. Exceptions include truck drivers, train workers and pilots.

Also, starting Friday, all public gatherings of more than 30 people will be banned.

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Congress is shutting the Capitol and all House and Senate office buildings to the public until April in reaction to the spread of the new coronavirus.

The House and Senate sergeants at arms said that the closure will begin at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday. Only lawmakers, aides, journalists and official visitors will be allowed into the buildings. The statement says officials are acting “out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public.”

Politicians in Europe, Iran and China have contracted the virus and several U.S. lawmakers have already self-quarantined due to exposure. The virus has infected over 126,000 people worldwide and killed over 4.600 but over 68,000 victims have already recovered.

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World markets are enduring violent swings amid uncertainty about how badly the outbreak will hit the economy.

An early plunge of 7% on Wall Street triggered a trading halt as a sell-off slamming global markets continued.

The Dow Jones industrials dropped more than 1,600 points, or 7%, the S&P 500 fell a similar amount. Trading resumes after 15 minutes.

The rout came after President Donald Trump imposed a travel ban on most of Europe and offered few new measures to contain the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Benchmarks in Europe fell more than 7% even after the European Central Bank announced more stimulus measures.

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Norway and Lithuania are shutting down kindergartens, schools and universities for at least two weeks and the Norwegian government says employees at work must be at least one meter apart.

In Oslo, the Norwegian capital, gatherings of more than 50 people were banned. Norway’s royal palace said all official arrangements till early April will either be cancelled or postponed. King Harald V said it’s “crucial” that everyone “avoid exposing ourselves or others to infection.”

Lithuania suspended gatherings of more than 100 people and closed museums, cinemas and sports clubs. In the capital of Vilnius, the lockdown was for five weeks.

In Finland, the government recommended banning all events with more than 500 people until end of May.

Denmark’s royal palace said Crown Prince Frederik and his wife will return from Switzerland “to be with the Danes” at this time.

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Princess Cruises has announced, due to the new coronavirus, it will voluntarily pause global operations of its 18 cruise ships for 60 days, affecting trips departing March 12 to May 10.

Cruise ships have been particularly hard hit amid the new pandemic and have been turned away by dozens of ports and countries. The Diamond Princess cruise ship, which Japanese officials held in a flawed quarantine operation, infected hundreds of passengers and crew.

Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, says “by taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us.”

Passengers now on a Princess cruise that will end in the next five days will continue to sail as expected through the end of the itinerary. Current voyages that extend beyond March 17 will be ended at the most convenient location for guests.

Under normal operations, it serves more than 50,000 passengers a day.

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Britain, which is exempt from the U.S. travel ban on most European nations, has not taken the stringent measures seen in other European countries, such as closing schools or banning large events.

The U.K. has 456 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and eight deaths. But the centerpiece of official British advice so far is that people should wash their hands often in warm, soapy water.

On Thursday, Britain’s Conservative government is expected to announce that it is moving from attempting to contain the virus to delaying its spread. That is likely to bring wider measures, including a recommendation that people with flu-like symptoms stay home for a week. But there are so far no plans for travel bans or large-scale closures of schools or other institutions.

In Ireland — which is also excluded from the U.S. travel ban — 43 cases have been confirmed and one person has died.

U.S. President Donald Trump has golf courses in Scotland and Ireland.

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Iran has asked for an emergency $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to combat the outbreak of the novel coronavirus there, which has killed more than 360 people and infected some 9,000 nationwide.

Iran’s Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati said Thursday he made the request last week in a letter to IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva.

Iran’s economy has been battered by U.S. sanctions, which have choked Tehran’s ability to export oil widely. The virus outbreak prompted all of Iran’s neighbors to shutter their borders and nations have cut travel links with Iran, including shipping in some cases, affecting imports, as well.

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Greek authorities say a ferry with 341 passengers and 77 crew on board is being held in port on the Greek island of Lemnos after a crew member presented symptoms similar to those of the new coronavirus.

The Merchant Marine Ministry said the ship had set sail in late Wednesday from the northern Greek port town of Kavala, where the crew member was removed from the ship and taken to a local hospital. He is being tested. The 127 people who had disembarked in Lemnos have been contacted by authorities and told to self-isolate at home until the results of the crew member’s test are in.

Lemnos was the first of the ferry’s 10 scheduled stops between Kavala and Greece’s main port of Piraeus, near Athens.

Greece has 98 confirmed virus cases and one death, a 66-year-old man who died Thursday.

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Ireland is closing all schools and cultural institutions until March 29, in a major escalation of its response to the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced the measures would take effect at 6 p.m. Thursday. He said the closure applies to schools, colleges, childcare facilities and cultural institutions. All indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor events with more than 500 are also canceled.

Speaking during a trip to Washington, Varadkar said people should work from home as much as possible.

He said the measures would mean major disruptions but “acting together as one nation we can save many lies.”

So far 43 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Ireland and one person has died. Ireland, along with Britain, is excluded from a 30-day U.S. ban on travellers form continental Europe

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Real Madrid says its soccer and basketball teams have been put into quarantine after a basketball player for the club tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Spanish club says the soccer team was also affected because it shares training facilities with the basketball team.

The decision by the club came moments before the Spanish league said the next two rounds of Spain’s first- and second-division matches are being suspended due to fears of the coronavirus outbreak.

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The European Union has slammed the new anti-virus travel ban announced by U.S. President Donald Trump, lashing out at the “unilateral” decision.

In a joint statement, EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted that the coronavirus pandemic is a “global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”

Trump’s new restrictions apply only to most foreign citizens who have been in Europe’s passport-free travel zone at any point within 14 days prior to their arrival to the United States.

The so-called “Schengen” area comprises 26 countries including EU members France, Italy, German, Greece, Austria and Belgium, where the EU has its headquarters, but also others like Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

Trump said the monthlong restriction on travel would begin late Friday. He accused Europe of not acting quickly enough to address the “foreign virus” and claimed that U.S. clusters were “seeded” by European travelers.

Von der Leyen and Michel dismissed Trump’s suggestion that the EU has not done enough.

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Japan’s lower house of parliament has endorsed a legislation that will allow Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The legislation, a revision to add the coronavirus to an existing law enacted for earlier influenza outbreaks, is a controversial one that opponents say could severely limit civil rights, including the right to gather.

The bill, passed Thursday by the lower house, is expected to be enacted as early as Saturday. Under it, Abe can issue compulsory nationwide school closures and confiscate private property to build new hospitals.

Japan has 645 cases of the virus, not counting cruise ship passengers and crew.

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The U.S. Army has decided to reduce the number of troops taking part in massive war games that have been planned across Europe over the next six months due to the new coronavirus.

The Defender-Europe 2020 exercises were set to involve some 20,000 American personnel, the biggest deployment of U.S. troops to Europe in the last 25 years.

But U.S. Army Europe said in a statement that “in light of the current coronavirus outbreak, we will modify the exercise by reducing the number of U.S. participants.” No details on numbers were provided.

In all, around 37,000 soldiers from 18 countries, not all of whom are members of the NATO military alliance, had been expected to take part. Some troops and equipment have already deployed.

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Denmark, which has 514 confirmed cases of the virus, on Thursday entered a virtual lockdown.

All schools — public and private — and daycare facilities will be closed from Monday, but many students are staying home already. Schools offered to take care of children but said there would be little teaching.

All public servants who do not perform critical functions have been ordered to stay home for the next two weeks. Hospitals and nursing homes have been urged to impose tighter restrictions on visits. All indoor cultural institutions, libraries and leisure facilities are closed.

The restrictions are to continue for two weeks.

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Two more passengers on board a river cruise boat in eastern Cambodia have tested positive for the new virus.

The Cambodian Health Ministry said a 73-year-old man and his 69-year-old wife who are both from the United Kingdom have been infected. They were on the same boat where another passenger from the United Kingdom tested positive two days ago

The remaining passengers who are awaiting their test results are being transferred from the cruise boat to a hotel in Kampong Cham for continued quarantine.

The luxury cruise with 64 passengers and crew originated in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City.

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