Global chaos continues as deaths rise in Iran and Italy owing to deadly virus first detected three months ago in China.

A worker sprays disinfectant on the Temple of Dawn in Bangkok, Thailand. March 12, 2020.
A worker sprays disinfectant on the Temple of Dawn in Bangkok, Thailand. March 12, 2020. (AP)

Sweeping travel bans accelerated around the globe on Thursday, walling regions apart, keeping people inside their homes and slowing the engines of commerce to try to stem the unfolding coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump, who had downplayed the virus for weeks, suddenly struck a different tone, delivering a somber Oval Office address announcing strict rules on travel from much of Europe to begin this weekend. The State Department followed with an extraordinary warning to Americans to "reconsider travel abroad" as well.

The European Union quickly slammed Trump’s "unilateral" decision, declaring the virus a "global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action."

The virus detected three months ago in China has produced crippling outbreaks in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, ignited global financial panic and in the last week has seen dizzying developments that are erupting by the hour.

Iran deaths 

One of those epicentres is in Iran, which announced on Thursday that another 75 people had died of the new coronavirus, bringing the overall number of deaths to 429 out of more than 10,000 infections.

It is the highest single-day death toll in the three weeks since the Islamic republic announced its first deaths from the outbreak last month.

"In the past 24 hours, 1,075 people have been infected with Covid-19 ... bringing the total number of infected people to 10,075 cases," Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said at a televised news conference.

"Seventy-five people hospitalised in the past few days have lost their lives and today a total of 429 infected people are no longer with us," he added.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Iran is one of the deadliest outside China, where the disease originated.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said Iran was "doing its best" to combat the virus as it called for the country to be given more support.

Iran said on Thursday that it has sought immediate financial assistance of $5 billion from the International Monetary Fund to help it combat the Covid-19 outbreak, in what would be its first such loan in decades.

Italy — another hotspot

Every country in the EU has now recorded at least one Covid-19 case and the continent as a whole has had 22,969 cases, most notably Italy with 12,462 cases and 827 fatalities.

Italy has shut down almost all its shops except food stores and pharmacies in Europe's toughest lockdown as virus deaths in the country rose to 827 with more than 12,000 cases of the illness confirmed.

Several countries have imposed similar if less sweeping measures.

On Thursday, Ireland became the latest EU member to ask its citizens for sacrifices and "social distancing."

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said "schools, colleges, and childcare facilities will close from tomorrow," as would cultural institutions.

But the EU response has been far for unified, despite calls for solidarity from several leaders, and member states are waiting for von der Leyen's commission to announce plans to "prop up" their economies on Friday.

Ireland closed schools, universities and cultural institutions from Friday until March 29.

In this February 26, 2020 file photo, anti-government protesters hold up banners in Arabic that read
In this February 26, 2020 file photo, anti-government protesters hold up banners in Arabic that read "you are the coronavirus, you are the epidemic" and "humiliation, bankruptcy, looting, starving and killing the rest of us" in front of the Lebanese Health Ministry in Beirut, Lebanon. (Hassan Ammar / AP)

Other disruptions

Sri Lanka will also close its schools, bringing forward the holidays by three weeks.

India has suspended all visas starting Friday.

Kazakhstan closed schools, cinemas, and universities and cancelled all public events.

A joint Russian-European mission to Mars was postponed to 2022 due to technical difficulties and the coronavirus.

Tom Hanks became the first Hollywood star to be infected and was placed in quarantine in an Australian hospital after testing positive, as did his wife Rita Wilson.

All members of the Spanish government will be tested after Equality Minister Irene Montero was infected.

Basketball came to a halt around the world, with the suspension of US, European and international competitions.

The Spanish football league will be suspended for at least two weeks, and the Real Madrid football and basketball teams were placed in quarantine.

The final races of the men's alpine skiing World Cup at Kranjska Gora on the weekend are scrapped.

New York postponed its traditional St Patrick's Day Parade on March 17. The US social media network Twitter ordered all its employees around the world to work from home.

Even remote Mount Everest closed for business. Chinese mountaineering officials cancelled spring climbs from their side of the mountain, while on the other side in Nepal, operators say cancellations were pouring in.

Life of virus

Most people infected by the new virus have only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, though symptoms can be severe, including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with pre-existing health problems. 

Recovery for mild cases takes about two weeks, while more severe illness may take three to six weeks, according to the WHO.

Research published on Wednesday found that the coronavirus can live in the air for several hours, and for as long as two to three days on some surfaces.

The worst affected countries are mainland China with 80,793 cases, with 3,169 deaths and of which more than three quarters have been cured. Italy follows with 12,462 cases and 827 deaths, Iran (10,075 cases, 429 deaths), South Korea (7,869 cases, 66 deaths), and France (2,281 cases, of which 48 deaths).

Spanish authorities later reported that the toll has soared to nearly 3,000 cases with 84 deaths, thus overtaking France.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies