Schools closed, public gatherings restricted in global effort to fight COVID-19 pandemic

Sweeping travel bans cascaded around the globe Thursday, walling off countries, keeping people inside their homes and slowing the engines of commerce to stem the coronavirus pandemic. France will from next week close all day cares, schools and universities to try to curb the its spread.

Ontario closing all publicly funded schools for 2 weeks following March break

A school bus driver wearing a protective mask and safety glasses uses a handheld sprayer to apply disinfectant to bus seats at the Brownsville Independent School District Transportation Department in Brownsville, Texas, on Thursday. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

The latest:

  • France will close all day cares, schools and universities next week to try to curb coronavirus's spread.
  • Sophie Grégoire Trudeau tests positive; PM Justin Trudeau working from home.
  • EU, Canada say they weren't informed ahead of time about U.S. travel ban.
  • Trump not in self-isolation despite being near Brazilian official who has tested positive.
  • Juno Awards cancelled; NHL and MLS sports seasons suspended.

Sweeping travel bans cascaded around the globe Thursday, walling off countries and even entire continents, keeping people inside their homes and slowing the engines of commerce to stem the coronavirus pandemic. Markets collapsed with the growing realization that there would be no fast end to the uncertainty.

France will from next week close all day cares, schools and universities to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus, President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address. Describing the outbreak as France's biggest public health crisis in a century, Macron also urged employers to let staff work from home, and said that the elderly and people with health conditions should stay indoors.

Following France, Belgium's government on Thursday ordered schools, cafes, restaurants and some shops to close. 

"There is no lockdown," Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said, stressing that supermarkets and pharmacies would remain open and other shops would only be required to close on weekends. "We want to avoid the Italian situation and avoid lockdowns."

Portugal's government has ordered that all the country's public and private schools and universities remain closed from next Monday for almost a month, with Prime Minister Antonio Costa saying the government will offer financial assistance to working parents who have to stay at home with their children.

Security personnel wait for the few passengers at the baggage control area at Munich Airport on Thursday. (Peter Kneffel/DPA via AP)

In the U.S., Washington state's Gov. Jay Inslee ordered that all public and private K-12 schools in the hard-hit Seattle area be closed for six weeks, while Maryland officials say that state is closing all public schools for two weeks.

In Canada, the Ontario government said it is closing all publicly funded schools across the province for two weeks following March break.

Trudeau, wife in self-isolation

On Thursday evening, the Prime Minister's Office said Sophie Grégoire Trudeau had tested positive for the virus which causes COVID-19. It said she and Justin Trudeau will remain in isolation.

"She is feeling well, is taking all the recommended precautions and her symptoms remain mild," the PMO said in a statement. 

It said the prime minister will not be tested for the virus at this time because he does not have any symptoms. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also announced he is self-isolating, though he is not currently exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms.

Also Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC News Network that the United States did not notify Canada before announcing travel restrictions on Europe.  

"This is absolutely something that we need to discuss with our friends and neighbours, and we will be doing that," said Freeland.

WATCH | Freeland says Canada 'constantly reviewing' border policy:

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U.S. President Donald Trump announced Wednesday evening that all European travel would be cut off, but U.S. officials later clarified that restrictions would apply only to most foreign citizens who have been in Europe's passport-free travel zone at any point for 14 days prior to their arrival to the U.S.

Trump said Thursday he had excluded the United Kingdom from the curbs because it was doing a good job in tackling the coronavirus. He said he was unable to consult with European officials before implementing the restrictions because he had to move quickly.

"I don't want people dying; that's what I'm all about," said Trump.

"I made a very tough decision last night, and a very tough decision a long time ago," he said, referring to an earlier restriction on travel to and from China.

Here's what's happening in provinces with COVID-19 cases 

As of Thursday, the number of presumptive and confirmed cases reported in Canada are:

Manitoba announced its first three presumptive case Thursday. Saskatchewan also announced its first presumptive case, saying it was someone in their 60s with recent travel history to Egypt.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that everyone needs to work together to tackle COVID-19. Speaking Thursday, he addressed the urgency of the outbreak, but also reiterated a call for increased health transfers to the provinces. 

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said public gatherings of more than 250 people and all international events should be cancelled. Schools and day cares can remain open, Hinshaw said, but should avoid large gatherings of children or students.

WATCH | Alberta 'doing everything possible,' says Hinshaw

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Featured VideoDr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, has called for public gatherings of more than 250 people and all international events to be cancelled.

Quebec Premier François Legault provided an update on what's happening in that province, saying that anyone returning to Quebec from abroad should self-isolate for two weeks, no matter where they were coming from.

"We need to delay the contagion," Legault said. "The next few weeks will be critical, and our goal is to slow the propagation of the virus as much as possible."

In Calgary, a child who attended a daycare located in the building that houses Suncor's headquarters downtown tested positive.  

A COVID-19 test kit is shown at a coronavirus evaluation clinic in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Wednesday that the evidence is still not firm, but that the infection rate could be anywhere from 30 to 70 per cent. 

For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For seniors and those with underlying health issues, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. But the vast majority recover: people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while more severe illness may take three to six weeks, World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Here's how the Canadian government is responding 

Canada's chief public health officer is urging people to take precautions and make efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, which WHO has described as a pandemic after it spread to at least 114 countries.

Dr. Theresa Tam urged people to take control measures, including proper hand hygiene, staying home if sick and social distancing.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which has been assessing the risks associated with the outbreak, says the risk from the coronavirus to the general population in Canada is low, but it notes the situation could change quickly. PHAC says people who are over 65, have underlying medical issues or a compromised immune system face "an increased risk of more severe outcomes."

Tam's suggestions came after Trudeau announced a $1-billion fund to help fight COVID-19, with funding for a range of initiatives, including provincial health systems, procurement of essential equipment and protective gear, as well as research into the coronavirus.

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What's happening in the rest of the world

The European Union lashed out at Trump's "unilateral" travel decision, saying that the illness does not respect borders.

"The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation," EU Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a joint statement.

"The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires co-operation rather than unilateral action."

They rejected Trump's suggestion that Europe is not doing enough to combat COVID-19, saying the 27-nation bloc "is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus."

WATCH l EU nations caught unawares by U.S. plan

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Featured VideoThe European Union has lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to restrict travel from Europe to the U.S. over the coronavirus, saying that the outbreak is a 'global crisis' that does not respect borders.

British scientists are not recommending the government introduce a U.S.-style travel ban to stop the spread of coronavirus, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday.

As the virus spreads, more European countries are adopting drastic measures. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Thursday that child-care centres, schools and universities are being closed until March 29, with the employed advised to work from home if possible.

More than 127,000 people in more than 115 countries have been infected. The vast majority are in just four countries: China, South Korea — where new cases are declining — Iran and Italy. More than 4,700 people have died worldwide, most of them in China. More than 68,000 people have recovered.

People wear face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus as they pray at the popular Longshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, March 12, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (Chiang Ying-ying/Associated Press)

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says the continent has more than 22,000 cases of the new coronavirus and 943 deaths.

In Washington, Congress said it would shut the Capitol, House and Senate office buildings to the public as of 5 p.m. ET Thursday until April 1 in reaction to the coronavirus. Only lawmakers, staff, journalists and visitors with official business will be permitted to enter the buildings.  

For the second straight day, lawmakers were asking hard questions of top-ranked health officials about American preparedness to handle any significant increase in infections.

A cleaning worker has their respirator mask sprayed down at a Seattle-area nursing home at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state on Thursday. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged that the U.S. was lagging other countries in testing for the virus to learn how widespread it really is.

"The system is not really geared to what we need, right now.… That is a failing. Let's admit it," Fauci said.  

But Fauci and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield both appeared to support curtailing travel from Europe, stating that 70 per cent of new infections are coming from that continent.

"Europe is the new China" in terms of the epicentre of the pandemic, Redfield said.

Paramedics carry an hazardous medical waste box as patients lie on camping beds in Brescia, northern Italy, on Thursday. (Luca Bruno/The Associated Press)

The Democratic debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders scheduled for Phoenix on Sunday, meanwhile, is being moved to Washington, D.C.

Biden, speaking from Delaware on Thursday, announced recommendations to confront the pandemic, and said the Trump administration's relative lack of testing compared to other countries was "colossal."

"This virus laid bare the shortcomings of the Trump administration," Biden said, slamming the president for an "adversarial relationship with the truth."

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's communications director, Fabio Wajngarten, tested positive just days after travelling with Bolsonaro to a meeting with Trump and senior aides in Florida, the South American country said.

Trump does not plan to be tested or go into self-quarantine, the White House said.

"Both the president and vice-president [Mike Pence] had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time," White House communications staff said.

But photos circulating on social media indicate that Wajngarten was in close proximity to the U.S. officials, including Trump.

Fabio Wajngarten, right, posted a photo to his Instagram account last weekend, in which he stood beside Trump. (Fabio Wajngarten/Instagram)

Here's what's happening in business

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted more than 2,250 points, or nearly 9.7 per cent, at one point but started climbing back after the Federal Reserve said it would step in to the bond market to address "highly unusual disruptions" in trading of Treasury securities. Still, the Dow was still down nearly 1,600 points, or 6.7 per cent, in the early afternoon, while the broader S&P 500 was off 6.3 per cent.

Canada's main stock index plunged more than 1,000 points. The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index fell 1,309.13 points, to 12,960.96.  

Princess Cruises announced early Thursday that its 18 cruise ships will not sail for two months, for trips departing March 12 to May 10. Voyages currently underway and originally scheduled to extend past March 17 will be "ended at the most convenient location for guests, factoring in operational requirements," the company said.

Traders work in their booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. (The Associated Press)

Here's what's happening in the world of sports

The National Basketball Association suspended its season Wednesday night after a Utah Jazz player tested positive Wednesday for the coronavirus. The Toronto Raptors, who played the Jazz on Monday, announced that members of the organization have been tested for the virus, and players and staff had been advised to go into self-isolation for 14 days.

The National Hockey League was suspending its season as well, Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed in a statement Thursday afternoon, while Major League Baseball will delay its 2020 season's opening day by at least two weeks.

The NCAA also has cancelled its men's and women's college basketball tournaments. 

The International Olympic Committee said Thursday it is continuing to monitor the situation ahead of the Tokyo Games, scheduled to begin July 24, but said in a statement "the many measures being taken now by authorities all around the world give us confidence and keep us fully committed to delivering Olympic Games that can bring the world together in peace."

A worker sanitizes seats in Bridgestone Arena after the remaining NCAA college basketball games in the Southeastern Conference tournament were cancelled Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press)

Here's what's happening in arts and culture

Junos organizers announced that the 49th edition to honour the best in the Canadian music industry and scheduled for Sunday, is off.

"We are devastated to cancel this national celebration of music, but at this time of global uncertainty, the health, safety and well-being of all Canadians must stand at the forefront of any decisions that impact our communities," organizers said.

In New York, the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall announced closures through March 31, and Broadway shows are off until at least April 12. In Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has postponed its May 2 induction ceremony.

With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press and Reuters