While many of Beijing's white collar workers returned to work as new cases of infection subsided in China, some 16 million people under a widespread lockdown in northern Italy struggled to figure out the new rules of their daily existence.

Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving from Milan main train station, Italy, March 9, 2020.
Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving from Milan main train station, Italy, March 9, 2020. (Claudio Furlan / AP)

Anxiety over the new coronavirus epidemic sent global stock markets and oil prices plunging Monday, touched off prison riots in Italy and caused a cascading shutdown of sites and events ranging from Saudi schools to a Holocaust march.

While many of Beijing's white-collar workers returned to work as new cases of infection subsided in China, some 16 million people under a widespread lockdown in northern Italy struggled to navigate the new rules of their mass isolation.

Global oil prices suffered their worst percentage losses since the start of the 1991 Gulf War.

In Saudi Arabia, shares of state oil giant Saudi Aramco dropped 10%, forcing a halt to trading of the company on Riyadh’s stock exchange.

Inmates at more than two dozen Italian prisons rioted against restrictions on family visits and other containment measures, and six died after they broke into the infirmary and overdosed on methadone.

Travellers at Milan’s main train station had to sign police forms self-certifying that they are traveling for "proven work needs,’’ situations of necessity, health reasons or to return home. They also needed to provide identity documents, contact numbers and an exact reason for travel.

Italy’s financial hub, Milan, and the popular tourist city of Venice were among the places under the quarantine lockdown. Across Italy, museums and archaeological sites were closed, weddings were cancelled and restaurants were told to keep patrons a meter apart. The country has counted 7,375 cases of Covid-19 virus and 366 deaths, more than any other country outside of Asia.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass by himself Monday at the Vatican hotel where he lives, live-streaming the event, but he did resume some meetings.

Map shows spread of novel coronavirus around the world.
Map shows spread of novel coronavirus around the world. (TRTWorld)

'I’m shaking hands using my heart'

Trying to send a message of confidence in the economy, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife walked on Paris’ famous Champs-Elysees avenue, but kept a one-metre security distance from passersby.

“I’m shaking hands using my heart,” he said, as he waved to people from a distance.

He called for a proportionate government response.

“We cannot shut down the country but we need to protect the most fragile people," he said.

China's slow re-emergence from weeks of extreme travel restrictions offers a grim sense of the longer-term effects the virus can have on a country's economy.

“Our business is one-fifth of what it was before,” said Cheng Sheng, who helps run a stand in Beijing that sells sausages and noodles. “There’s much less foot traffic. There are no people.”

Infections were reported in more than half the world’s countries, and flash points were erupting around the globe. In all, more than 110,000 people have tested positive for the disease and more than 3,800 people with the virus have died, most of them in China. Some 62,000 people have already recovered.

In Iran, state television said the virus had killed another 43 people, pushing the official toll up to 237, with 7,161 confirmed cases.

But many fear the scope of illness is far wider there.

Infections in cruise ship

In the United States, where more than 500 infections have been reported, the Grand Princess cruise ship, which has at least 21 confirmed virus cases, was expected to dock in Oakland, California, amid elaborate protective procedures.

Fleets of buses and planes were ready to whisk the more than 2,000 passengers to military bases or their home countries for a 14-day quarantine.

In Florida, passengers disembarked from the Regal Princess after it received clearance to dock.

Two crew members eyed as possible carriers had negative tests for the virus.

The Caribbean Princess cruise ship, meanwhile, cut short a Fort Lauderdale-Mexico cruise because crew members had been on another ship where people were infected.

In Washington, the Capitol's attending physician's office said “several” members of Congress had contact with a person who attended a recent political conference and subsequently developed Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. They “remain in good health,” the office said. Two members of Congress, Senator Ted Cruz and Rep.

Paul Gosar, said they are isolating themselves after determining they had contact with the person.

Countries around the world showed a willingness to take tough steps to try to stop the virus' spread.

Travel restrictions

After earlier closing off its land borders, Saudi Arabia cut off air and sea travel to and from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, South Korea, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. All Saudi schools and universities were closing beginning Monday.

Qatar cut off travel to 15 countries and announced it would shut down schools and universities beginning Tuesday .

The Czech Republic banned visits to hospitals and retirement homes and began random checks on vehicles arriving at border crossings, including taking the temperatures of occupants.

Organisers of the annual Holocaust remembrance march in southern Poland postponed the event this year due to coronavirus fears, and soccer authorities announced two Champions League matches and one in Germany's Bundesliga would take place with no fans.

China reported 40 new cases of the virus Monday, its lowest number since January 20. More than three-quarters of the country’s surviving virus patients have been released from treatment.

South Korea reported 165 more cases Monday, bringing its total to 7,478.

Albania announced its first Covid-19 cases, a father and son who had returned from Italy, and the president of the Philippines declared a public health emergency.

Italy's neighbours take steps 

Switzerland has announced checks of Italian commuters’ Swiss work permits and Austria has said it plans spot health checks of people crossing its southern border to try to contain the coronavirus.

Italy, which has been hit worse by the virus than any other European country, has imposed a virtual lockdown on the northern region of Lombardy and parts of neighbouring Veneto.

The Swiss government said on Sunday Italians who work in Switzerland will have to show papers proving they have a job in the Alpine country.

But Italians will not be prevented from working in Switzerland, a decision that is important for the economy of the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino, where more than 70,000 Italian cross-border commuters hold work permits.

“This should ensure the continued functioning of the Ticino health system,” the Swiss government said.

Bern has told Swiss residents not to go to affected regions in northern Italy but the border remains open for goods traffic and trains have been operating largely on schedule across the Swiss-Italian border.

Under Austria’s new measures, two mobile health check teams will from Tuesday check travellers in cars and trains in the Brenner pass region and two other crossing points.

“Our goal remains to contain the coronavirus as long as and well as possible to prevent more people falling ill and thus buy time until there is an effective therapy against the virus,” the governor of Tyrol province, Guenther Platter, said.

Switzerland has reported 312 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 and two deaths. Austria has reported 112 confirmed cases.

Austria’s state rail operator, OeBB, said staff now get off at the border with Italy instead of going to the final destination across the border, and the same applies to Italian trains heading north.

There are about 20 daily OeBB trains between Austria and Italy. Only the two night trains to Venice and Milan have been cancelled so far and rail cargo has not been affected, it said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies