the steady spread of the coronavirus has disrupted basic aspects of daily life globally while authorities rushed to contain the epidemic. Schools, businesses and places of worship in many countries affected by the novel coronavirus are temporarily closing or scaling back gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus.
In Italy, the worst-hit coronavirus hot spot in Europe, many cities have been left deserted by the coronavirus outbreak with tourists abandoning the usually overcrowded streets and plazas over health fears. The country has already shut down its schools through mid-March, mirroring actions in India and Japan. Many other countries are wondering if they should do the same.
The virus has disrupted Muslim worship across the Middle East. Saudi Arabia banned pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca, while Iran has canceled Friday’s Islamic prayers in major cities. Iraq canceled Friday prayers in Karbala, where a weekly sermon is delivered on behalf of the country’s top Shiite cleric.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia suspended the umrah for its own citizens and residents over fears of the coronavirus spreading to Islam’s holiest cities. The move came after authorities last week suspended visas for the umrah and barred citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council from entering Mecca and Medina.
In addition, the Vatican said Pope Francis may have to change his schedule, tourists have been barred from Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity receives some 10,000 tourists a day, according to Palestinian officials, and is expected to welcome tens of thousands of visitors during the Easter season.
Companies across the world are having to rethink the way they operate to slow the spread of a virus that first emerged in China, with some opting to freeze travel, stockpile goods and have staff work from home. The world’s largest coffee chain Starbucks has stopped accepting reusable cups from customers to prevent the spread of coronavirus, though it will still honor the promised discount for anyone carrying one.
The number of novel coronavirus cases in the world surpassed 100,000, including 3,404 deaths, across 87 countries and territories by Friday. Outside China, a total of 17,571 cases have been recorded around the world since the epidemic began, including 343 deaths. There have been 706 new cases and nine new deaths outside China since Thursday. As of Friday, China, South Korea, France and Spain have recorded new deaths. Palestine, Serbia, Slovakia, the Vatican City, Bhutan, Peru have confirmed the first cases on their soil.
Iran, the epicenter of the virus in the region, announced that it would set up checkpoints to limit travel between major cities and urged citizens to reduce their use of paper money to help slow the outbreak. The country has been scrambling to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus which so far has infected 3,513 people and killed at least 107 people in the Islamic republic. Six of those who died from coronavirus are politicians or government officials.
Hossein Sheikholeslam, an adviser to Iran’s foreign minister who took part in the 1979 U.S. embassy hostage crisis has died from coronavirus, the official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday. The novel coronavirus has also claimed the lives of other high-profile Iranian officials, including Mohammad Mirmohammadi of the Expediency Council, which advises supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei