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WHO Declares Coronavirus Pandemic As Russia Cancels More Flights To Europe


Russia joined a host of countries announcing new measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus as the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the outbreak a pandemic.

Russia said on March 11 that it would cancel flights to major European destinations until the end of April, India announced it would cancel tourist visas for the next month, and Germany said it is moving to ban public gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

U.S. President Donald Trump was set to address the nation later on March 11 about the measures his administration would take to fight the pandemic and support the economy.

Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. health official, said told Congress earlier in the day that the outbreak would "get worse" in America.

WHO Statement

WHO finally declared coronavirus a pandemic after weeks of monitoring its global spread.

"WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction," WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing on March 11 in Geneva.

It's the first respiratory illness to be named a pandemic, Tedros added, saying that the spread of COVID-19 has reached 114 countries, infected more than 118,000 people, and has led to 4,291 deaths.

He said the declaration "doesn't change what countries should do" to vigorously contain the virus.

"We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear," Tedros said.

Eastern Europe, Eurasia Impact

Russian state-owned airline Aeroflot announced it would cancel flights to 18 European cities in four countries starting on March 13 and running until the end of April.

The four countries are Italy, Spain, France, and Germany, each of which has more than 1,000 reported cases of the virus.

Russia will also suspend issuing tourist visas to Italians as of March 13 excluding business, humanitarian, diplomatic, and service visas.

Italy, a top destination for Russian tourists, has been among the worst-hit countries in the world with more than 12,400 reported cases of the new coronavirus and 827 deaths.

Russia has about only 28 confirmed cases, including six that were confirmed in the capital and another two in the Moscow region on March 11. Several of those individuals contracted the disease while on travel to Italy.

Moldova, meanwhile, confirmed its fourth virus case, as did Armenia.

Albania recorded the first coronavirus death in the Western Balkans and has 11 known cases.

U.S., European Measures

The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on March 11 said the number of virus deaths in America reached 31 and the number of confirmed cases exceeded 1,000.

Trump, who met earlier in the day with the nation's leading bankers, is considering declaring a national emergency to unleash funds for the federal government’s response to the fast-spreading virus outbreak, a source familiar with the matter told Politico. Up to $40 billion could be freed up if the declaration is made.

The U.S. might also restrict flights to Europe, following Russia's lead.

U.S. lawmakers and health officials have also set up containment zones and quarantine areas.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency on March 11 as the number of confirmed cases in the nation's capital reached 10 as officials there recommended gatherings of 1,000 or more people be postponed or canceled.

Some governors and other leaders have banned certain large public gatherings. In Washington, the hardest hit state, certain gatherings of more than 250 people have been banned.

Before the WHO's briefing, Italy, and Britain announced multibillion-dollar spending plans to fight the disease. Italy also said it would shut all stores except for pharmacies and food shops to stop the pandemic.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a bleak outlook, saying epidemiologists predict that the virus will infect 60 to 70 per cent of the population.

Merkel's speech did not go down well in neighboring Czech Republic, where Prime Minister Andrej Babis accused her of spreading panic.

With reporting by Politico, Reuters, AP, and AFP
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