BERLIN — More authorities are considering widespread school closures among a raft of measures being taken around the world to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
These are some of the latest developments Wednesday:
SCHOOL CLOSURES, PILGRIMAGES CANCELED
The government in Italy, which has reported more than 2,500 cases and 79 deaths, is closing all schools nationwide for two weeks in an effort to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. Schools in the Seattle area also mulled teaching students online in the event of prolonged closures. Washington state has recorded nine deaths from COVID-19.
Saudi Arabia has banned all pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca in a bid to tackle the outbreak. It’s the latest example of the virus disrupting religious practices in the Middle East. Iran, which has been hard-hit by the outbreak with almost 3,000 cases and over 90 deaths, has canceled Friday’s Islamic prayers in major cities. in Israel, the chief rabbi is urging observant Jews to refrain from kissing mezuzot, small items encasing a prayer scroll that are posted by Jews on doorposts.
SOUTH KOREA SEEKS HOSPITAL BEDS, NORTH KOREA DENIES CASES
The South Korean city of Daegu is short of thousands of hospital beds for patients with the coronavirus. Still, Prime Minister Chung Se-Kyun is expressing confidence that the country can cope with the outbreak as new infections announced Wednesday almost halved compared to the day before.
Neighboring North Korea claims that no one in the country has been infected with the new virus despite sharing a nearly 1,450-kilometer (900-mile) border with China, where COVID-19 first appeared late last year. The government views public reports on infectious diseases to be a matter of state secrecy, raising concerns that North Korea might be hiding cases, harming global efforts to contain the outbreak.
Meanwhile, even tiny Liechtenstein and the remote Faroe Islands reported their first cases Wednesday.
MORE ATHLETES ON GULF CYCLING TOUR INFECTED
Authorities in the United Arab Emirates say six more people linked to the canceled UAE Tour cycling race have been infected with COVID-19. The new cases are all linked to two previous cases involving Italians. Numerous sports events around the world have been canceled or postponed as authorities seek to clamp down on the virus’ spread, including Wednesday’s Italian Cup semifinal between rivals Juventus and AC Milan. Doubts remain over whether the Summer Olympics in Tokyo can take place as planned from July 24 -Aug. 9.
COMPANIES CURB BUSINESS TRAVEL
Many companies are cutting back on business travel, with some even stopping all staff trips. Online retailer Amazon told its 800,000 workers to postpone any non-essential travel, while Swiss food giant Nestle instructed its 291,000 employees to halt international travel until mid-March. Many companies and organizations are opting instead for virtual meetings and even making major announcements about new product presentations online.
LOUVRE REOPENS AFTER MUSEUM EASES WORKERS’ FEARS
The world-famous Louvre Museum in Paris has reopened after museum managers promised new measures to ease workers’ fears about catching the virus from the thousands who visit every day. The measures include distributing more disinfectant gels and giving staff more time to wash their hands. Additionally, staff will only need to stand at the entrance to the room where Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is displayed — a big draw for the museum’s millions of yearly visitors — rather than standing inside. The Louvre will also stop accepting cash payments amid concerns that banknotes could harbor the virus
PROOF’S IN THE PIZZA
France’s ambassador to Italy wolfed down a Neapolitan pizza Wednesday in a gastronomic apology of sorts after a French satirical program poked fun at Italy with a sketch featuring a “corona pizza.” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has been working to preserve Italy’s image amid a large number of infections that has caused tourism to tank across the country. The Canal Plus plug hit the minister particularly hard, since he hails from the Naples area. Ambassador Christian Masset told reporters that “we French love pizza” as he arrived for lunch at the Gino Sorbillo pizzeria. The owner also had a message for those who would attack the Italian tradition: “Don’t mess with our cuisine,” Sorbillo said. “It’s one of the last things we have.”