Children were staying at home across Europe today as France, Portugal, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and Belgium became the latest countries to close schools over coronavirus fears.
France has called for a ‘massive applying of the brakes’ with schools and universities closed for at least two weeks to ‘prepare for the circulation of the virus’.
Portugal is also closing schools, limiting visits to retirement homes and shutting down nightclubs with large public events already cancelled.
Four towns have been shut down in Spain where police were today stopping cars on a road near Barcelona.
In Italy, which is already in lockdown, Catholic churches in Rome have now been shut as the Vatican falls in line with the rest of the country.
Football fixtures across Europe have been taking place behind closed doors amid calls for the Euro 2020 tournament to be postponed.
Meanwhile, some European passengers were boarding the last flights to America this morning before Donald Trump’s unexpected travel ban comes into force tonight.
The drastic measures leave Britain increasingly out of step with the rest of Europe after Boris Johnson yesterday declined to impose a ban on schools or public events.
SPAIN: Catalan police officers stop a car trying to get into Igualada, one of the four towns closed down by regional authorities, at a checkpoint near Barcelona this morning
POLAND: Medical staff arrive in an ambulance at a public hospital in Lublin in Poland, a country which yesterday recorded its first coronavirus death
ITALY: A sanitation worker sprays disinfectant over a set of stairs in Brescia in northern Italy, which is already under quarantine
A map showing the latest number of cases across Europe, with Italy by far the worst affected. The small dots represent small nations such as Vatican City, San Marino and Andorra
French schools and universities will be shut until at least the Easter holidays, education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told French radio today.
Health minister Olivier Veran said that the schools would be closed for ‘as short a time as possible’ but also for ‘as long as is needed’.
‘What we want is a massive applying of the brakes nationwide,’ he told Europe 1 Radio today.
President Emmanuel Macron had announced the closures in address to the nation from the Elysee Palace last night where he urged older people to stay at home.
‘We are just at the beginning of this crisis,’ said Macron, 42.
‘In spite of all our efforts to brake it, this virus is continuing to propagate and to accelerate.’
Macron asked people older than 70, those who suffer chronic diseases, respiratory troubles, and the handicapped, ‘to stay at home’ as far as possible.
‘They can, of course, leave home to do the shopping, to take some air, but they should limit their contacts as much as possible,’ said the president.
But Macron also announced that nationwide local elections scheduled for Sunday will not be postponed.
‘There is nothing to prevent the French, even the most vulnerable, from going to the ballot box’ as long as people observe hygiene rules, he said.
‘It is important at this time… to assure the continuity of our democratic life and that of our institutions,’ said Macron.
Public transport will not be interrupted, said Macron, ‘because to stop it would be to block everything, including the possibility to provide health care’ where needed.
ITALY: A worker cleans and sanitises streets near Milan’s central station today with Italy entering its fourth day of an unprecedented nationwide lockdown
GERMANY: Passengers wait to board the last direct United Airlines flight from Berlin to New York at Tegel Airport this morning before Donald Trump’s travel ban takes effect
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: The front square of Trinity College is seen nearly empty yesterday following the announcement that schools and universities would be closed
A sanitation worker cleans a flight of steps in Brescia in northern Italy this morning
Neighbouring Belgium will close schools, cancelled cultural events and shut down bars and restaurants, the government announced last night.
Prime minister Sophie Wilmes unveiled the measures after a national security meeting last night, saying they would come into force tomorrow.
‘This is not a lockdown,’ Wilmes said. ‘We want to avoid situations like Italy. These measures must prevent lockdowns.’
The closure of schools at national level will be effective until April 3, the day before the Easter holidays, effectively keeping students out of school for a month.
The government said that parents with no option for child care would be helped by authorities.
This was an effort to avoid citizens resorting to retired people, the age group most vulnerable to the virus.
‘The idea is not for children to be looked after by their grandparents,’ she said.
Beginning Saturday, only stores that provide essential services – such as pharmacies and grocery stores – will remain open under normal conditions.
All other stores will remain open during the week, but closed at weekends. The government also asked Belgians to work from home as much as possible.
Luxembourg also closed schools and is limiting visits to the elderly in hospitals and nursing homes, hoping to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
‘Daily life is going to change and we will have to adapt,’ Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said, announcing measures of a scale ‘never seen before’ in the Grand Duchy.
Landlocked Luxembourg is home to only 600,000 people, but more than 200,000 commuters from Belgium, France and Germany cross its borders each day to come to work.
SLOVENIA: A line of trucks queue up in Obrezje, around six miles away from Slovenia’s border with Croatia where new health checks have been taking place
VATICAN CITY: The road leading up to St Peter’s Square is deserted today after the city-state fell in line with the rest of Italy
Portugal has also closed schools, keeping children at home from Monday until just before Easter.
The move will affect more than 1.6 million children and teenagers and remain in force until April 9, prime minister Antonio Costa said.
Costa also announced a seriesof ‘temporary’ measures, including the closure of nightclubs and limiting visitors to retirement homes.
Portugal has so far registered 78 cases and has cancelled events with more than 1,000 people in enclosed places and more than 5,000 in open areas.
Malta has also shut down schools, with no flights leaving for France or Italy from the country’s sole international airport today.
Switzerland has not yet closed schools, but the Ticino region yesterday shut down higher education institutions and banned most public gatherings.
The region, which borders Italy, has declared a ‘state of necessity’ after suffering the brunt of the outbreak in Switzerland.
Switzerland has to date recorded more than 600 cases and four deaths in the outbreak.
A top national health official meanwhile told Swiss media that the entire country could soon follow suit.
Similarly, schools and kindergartens in Germany would be closed by regional authorities in the 16 states rather than by the federal government in Berlin.
Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that the Easter holidays could be brought forward if state governments decided to keep children at home.
Merkel has called for non-essential events to be cancelled, going further than a previous demand to stop gatherings of more than 1,000 people.
‘That is a call to all,’ she said, noting that ‘where possible, social contact must be avoided’.
Germany’s count of coronavirus cases has now reached 2,369 including five deaths.
Catalan police officers stand in a road to block cars trying to leave Igualada, a town near Barcelona which has been locked down over virus fears
Paramedics work at a makeshift medical centre in Brescia, in northern Italy which has been worst affected by the outbreak
Supplies from China arrive at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport last night after they were flown from Shanghai – with Beijing now exporting its knowledge of handling the virus.
In Spain, four towns in Catalonia were put under quarantine in the first such move in the country.
The 66,000 inhabitants of the localities of Igualada, Odena, Santa Margarida de Montbui and Vilanova del Cami ‘cannot leave their urban core’ although they can leave their homes, a statement said.
Catalonia’s health minister Alba Verges told reporters that the authorities would be focussing on Igualada, a town of 40,000 inhabitants just 40 miles from Barcelona.
Catalan police were blocking cars trying to leave Igualada on a motorway this morning.
Meanwhile, Poland recorded its first virus death yesterday after a 57-year-old teacher died in the city of Poznan.
The woman had been taken to hospital in a critical condition with pneumonia, Poznan deputy mayor Jedrzej Solarski said.
The woman’s husband and daughter are among those in hospital with coronavirus but their conditions are not critical.
Other family members, including the woman’s two sons, have not been infected.
‘What we feared over the last few days has come about. We have our first death from the coronavirus,’ Polish President Andrzej Duda told reporters.
‘I offer my condolences to her close ones.’
Poland currently has 46 other confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the health ministry.
Italy is already four days into a nationwide quarantine that has left streets empty with bars and restaurants shut and most shops ordered to close.
The deserted Candiolo church in Turin is pictured earlier this week with church attendance taking a hit from Italy’s unprecedented nationwide quarantine
A Catalan police officer wearing a protective mask stands guard at a check-point outside the town of Igualada this morning which has been locked down
French president Emmanuel Macron speaking to the nation last night from the Elysee Palace where he announced that schools would be closed from next week
Rome is now shutting down all its Catholic churches with worshippers exempted from attending Sunday Mass.
The shutdown was announced by the Pope’s deputy in Rome last night as Italy’s death toll passed 1,000 in the worst outbreak outside China.
Cardinal Angelo De Donatis said Rome’s 900 churches will be closed until at least April 3, when Italy’s nationwide quarantine is due to end.
The Vatican has already shut down St Peter’s Square, St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museums to tourists with weddings and funerals called off.
But the total church closure is thought to be unprecedented. Some places of worship keeping their doors open even during World War II when the Nazis and Italian fascists kept Pope Pius XII confined to the Vatican.
The cardinal’s statement said access to ‘churches of the Diocese of Rome open to the public – and more generally to religious buildings of any kind open to the public – is forbidden to all the faithful’.
The statement added that monasteries would remain open to ‘communities that habitually use them as residents’.
‘This provision is for the common good,’ De Donatis wrote.
The cardinal said he was finally moved to close Rome’s churches by ‘the even more binding restrictions placed on the ordinary movement of people’.
Players line up for a Europa League match between Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany and FC Basel of Switzerland last night which was played behind closed doors
Passengers wait to board the last direct United Airlines flight from Berlin to New York at Tegel Airport before the Trump European travel ban goes into effect
The Pope himself has been kept away from the public since he appeared to have a cold during an Ash Wednesday service last week.
Pope Francis has been appearing via a Vatican live-stream and has complained of feeling ‘caged’.
The 83-year-old was forced to miss his weekly Wednesday appearance on St Peter’s Square where he often hugs and shake hands with the faithful.
The pontiff also had to read his traditional Sunday Angelus Prayer into a camera instead of his usual window overlooking the square.
The national quarantine is in place until at least April 3, but top health official Walter Ricciardi told Italian TV yesterday that his countrymen should prepare for a ‘long war’.
Italy’s government has also announced plans to boost the economy with extra spending, with particular fears for the tourist industry.
Medical supplies from China arrived at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport last night after they were flown from Shanghai – with Beijing now exporting its knowledge of handling the virus.
Time is running out for Britons to return home from Italy with the last flights leaving tonight and neighbours shutting their borders.
Austria has ordered a halt to flights and trains from Italy while Slovenia has begun imposing controls at its border with the country.
Elsewhere, truck drivers have been waiting in long queues at the Slovenia-Croatia border with extra checks taking place because of the outbreak.
A worker cleans and sanitises streets near Milan’s central station, in the region of Lombardy which has suffered the worst of the outbreak in Italy
UK prime minister Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press conference yesterday where he declined to implement drastic quarantine measures
Europe-wide sports events have also been affected with several Champions League and Europa League games taking place behind closed doors this week.
There are growing calls for Euro 2020, which is due to take place across the continent, to be postponed until next year.
A delay could also allow disrupted football seasons to finish over the summer, it has been suggested.
Britain has yet to announce any drastic quarantine measures, although schools have been told to cancel foreign trips and older people advised against cruise voyages.
Boris Johnson said further measures were likely in the coming weeks, including the possibility of cancelling mass gatherings such as sporting events.
He insisted yesterday that scientists were advising against school closures, despite similar shutdowns in neighbouring Ireland.
‘Schools should only shut if they are specifically advised to do so,’ the PM told reporters in Downing Street yesterday.
The government is also fearful of public ‘fatigue’ of tougher restrictions before they are needed most.
‘This is going to be a long haul. It is very important we do not start things in advance of need,’ Mr Johnson said at the Number 10 press conference.