Macau bars outsiders as world presses pause

Top News | Maisy Mok and agencies 18 Mar 2020

Macau has banned all foreign visitors from entering the gaming hub from today, joining several regions in closing off their borders to nonresidents.

With the virus spreading rapidly in Europe, France joined Italy and Spain in imposing restrictions rarely seen outside wartime - while dozens of countries have closed borders, ordered curfews and banned most public events.

Spain and Russia sealed off their borders while Germany severely restricted crossings.

Across the Atlantic, where similar extreme measures are multiplying, President Donald Trump said he is asking Americans to restrict gatherings to groups of fewer than 10 people - as New York and the capital Washington stood largely deserted.

Canada is also closing the borders to non-citizens except those from the United States.

Macau's new policy started at midnight last night, but does not apply to Chinese nationals, including those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, Macau's government said yesterday.

The ban came just a day after Macau required all arrivals from foreign countries to go through a 14-day quarantine. People arriving from high-risk areas - including Europe, Korea and Iran - will be quarantined at government-designated hotels.

For those arriving from mid-risk regions, including Southeast Asia and the mainland, arrivals can opt to undergo quarantine at home or a hotel of their choice.

The government sent tour buses to Hong Kong airport to pick up 100 Macau residents and students returning from Europe. More buses will be sent until March 22.

Macau saw two new confirmed cases on Monday and yesterday, breaking the chain of no new cases for 40 days since early February. The cases were a 26-year-old South Korean woman who visited Portugal and a 47-year-old Spanish man who flew from his home country to Beijing before arriving in Macau.

Elsewhere around the globe, people have found their lives upended by lockdowns and social distancing. Shoppers in Malaysia stood in long lines to stock up at picked-over supermarkets, while the Philippines halted stock, bond and currency trading until further notice - the first country to shut financial markets in response to the pandemic.

The cancellations of treasured holidays and community events continued to build as Thailand said it was calling off its water festival in April and US organizers of the so-called "most exciting two minutes in sports" - the Kentucky Derby - reportedly prepared to announce the delay of the horse race for the first time since World War II.

Fresh moves to contain the virus came even as Wuhan, the previous center of the outbreak, reported just one new case yesterday.

The fronts in the battle have clearly shifted outside China, with its caseload now outnumbered by those outside its borders. And Spain is now the fourth-most infected country, surpassing South Korea, where new cases have been subsiding.

With the number of cases worldwide topping 181,000, a surge of patients in Madrid's hospitals fueled worries across Europe of what lies ahead. Pleas went out for funnel masks and ventilators to places struggling with soaring caseloads.

Only China, Italy and Iran have more infections than Spain. France implemented a strict lockdown yesterday, prohibiting all but essential outings. The government has said police will patrol streets and issue fines of up to 135 euros (HK$ 1,151) to people without a written declaration to justify their reasons for being out.

The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Netherlands stood at 1,705, with 43 deaths.

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