ROME – Almost 300 million students worldwide faced weeks at home on Thursday with Italy the latest country to shut schools over the deadly new coronavirus, as the IMF urged an all-out, global offensive against the epidemic.
More than 95,000 people have been infected and over 3,200 have died worldwide from the virus, which has now reached some 80 countries and territories.
The vast majority of global deaths and infections are in China, where the virus first emerged late last year, prompting the country to quarantine entire cities, temporarily shut factories and close schools indefinitely.
As the virus spread, other countries have also implemented extraordinary measures, with Unesco saying on Wednesday that 13 countries have closed schools, affecting 290.5 million children, while nine others have implemented localised closures.
While temporary school closures during crises are not new, Unesco chief Audrey Azoulay said, “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education”.
Italy on Wednesday ordered schools and universities shuttered until March 15, ramping up its response as the national death toll rose to 107, the deadliest outbreak outside China.
South Korea — the country with the largest number of cases outside China with nearly 6,000 — has postponed the start of the current term until March 23.
In Japan, nearly all schools are closed after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for classes to be cancelled through March and spring break, slated for late March through early April.
Some 120 schools closed in France this week in areas with the largest numbers of infections.
In Pakistan, where five cases have been reported so far, provincial governments have announced school closures. Schools in Sindh will remain shut till March 13, in Balochistan till March 15 and in Gilgit-Baltistan till March 7.
The German health minister said the outbreak was now a “global pandemic” — a term the World Health Organisation has stopped short of using, meaning the virus is spreading in several regions through local transmission.
Infections are now rising faster abroad than they are in China, where 31 more deaths and 139 new cases were reported Thursday. China’s death toll now stands at 3,012, with over 80,000 infections.
From western Europe to eastern Asia, supermarket shelves have been stripped of supplies in recent weeks, including toilet paper and hand sanitiser.
American businesses are increasingly concerned over access to goods and the overall economic outlook is more uncertain, the US Federal Reserve said in its beige book survey released on Wednesday.
With the US toll rising to 11 on Wednesday, lawmakers in Congress reached a deal to provide more than $8 billion to fight the outbreak.
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