BANGKOK: Saudi Arabia cut travel to Islam’s holiest sites, South Korea toughened penalties for those breaking quarantines and airports across Latin America looked for signs of sick passengers as a new virus troubled places around the globe.
As outbreaks grew sharply Europe and the Middle East, air routes were halted and border control toughened. But for an illness transmitted so easily, with its tentacles reaching into so many parts of the world, leaders seemed willing to try anything to keep their people and economies safe.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for schools across the country to close for weeks, a decision that impacted 12.8 million students.
In South Korea, the hardest-hit country outside China, four Busan markets known for colorful silks and a dizzying array of other wares were shuttered while the country’s military sent hundreds of its doctors and soldiers to aid in treatment and quarantines. South Korea reported 256 additional cases Friday, raising its total to 2,022, with most occurring in the region around the city of Daegu.
China’s National Health Commission reported 327 new cases and 44 deaths over the previous 24 hours, most of them in Wuhan, the city where the COVID-19 illness emerged in December. Mainland China’s total cases are now 78,824 with 2,788 deaths.
The global count of those sickened by the virus exceeds 82,000, with China still by far the hardest-hit country. Recent days have seen sharp spikes in South Korea, Italy and Iran.
The holy city of Mecca, which able-bodied Muslims are called to visit at least once in their lives, and the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina were cut off to potentially millions of pilgrims, with Saudi Arabia making the extraordinary decision to stop the spread of the virus.
With the monarchy offering no firm date for the lifting of the restrictions, the decision affecting those planning to make their hajj.