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Belgium has reported its first coronavirus-related death, prompting the government to urge people to stay at home if they feel sick.
Hervé Deladrière, the medical director for a group of hospitals in a south Brussels, said: “The [90-year-old] woman was admitted to Molière Longchamp hospital in Brussels on Monday. She had serious lung problems.”
Steven Van Gucht, a virologist at Belgium’s scientific institute for public health, said: “It was an elderly lady with underlying disease. We need to show solidarity with the weak and protect them. How? By showing responsibility. Whoever is sick stays at home. Don’t shake hands, don’t kiss, keep your distance and do telework. Don’t go to mass meetings.”
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Spain hit by cancellations
My colleague Stephen Burgen in Barcelona reports that the festival of las Fallas in Valencia has become the latest victim of coronavirus in Spain after the regional government suspended the city’s biggest event indefinitely.
For the festival, nominally held in honour of St Joseph, more than 700 neighbourhood associations spend months creating huge effigies of famous or historical figures. These are later burnt at the end of the five-day event.
Las Fallas, which were due to begin this Sunday, attract tens of thousands of visitors from Spain and abroad and it’s estimated that it’s worth around €700m to the city as it accounts for around 15% of visitors over the year. The festival of Magdalena in nearby Castellón has also been cancelled.
The news follows the cancellation of the annual World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, whose delegates were expected to spend around €500m during their four-day visit.
The list of cancellations continues to grow. The Málaga film festival, which attracts about 150,000 people to the southern city, has been called off. Málaga is the focus of coronavirus cases in Andalucía.
Meanwhile, numerous theatrical events have been cancelled and several rock bands are rescheduling their tours. However, the big question mark is Easter itself, which is celebrated with huge public events, especially in Sevilla, which no one as yet has dared to cancel.
And although tonight’s Champions League match between Liverpool and Atlético de Madrid will be played as normal, the Spanish club has advised supporters not to travel to the game.
The government has promised a series of measures such as extending credit to small businesses, a temporary moratorium on some taxes and a shorter working week and financial compensation for those with childcare responsibilities.
The Spanish hoteliers’ association has asked the government to help the sector, which faces a possibly disastrous Easter. Already, hotel reservations in Andalucía are down 20% over the Easter period and the tourism industry overall has yet to recover from the collapse of Thomas Cook last year.
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France steps up preparations to deal with coronavirus
The French government is preparing for an acceleration of the Covid-19 epidemic and experts are predicting Stage 3 will be introduced in the coming days, Kim Willsher writes from Paris.
This comes as the country prepares for municipal elections the first round of which will be held this Sunday (the second round takes places the following Sunday). Voters are being urged to turn out to the polling stations with officials saying it will be no more dangerous than “a trip to the supermarket”.
Jérôme Saloman, the director of the national health agency, announced at his daily news briefing on Tuesday evening that there are now 1,784 confirmed cases, 84 of who are in intensive care, and 33 deaths. All of those who have died are adults and 23 of them were aged over 75 years. Around 80-85% of the infections “remain benign”, Salomon said. However, he added there “remain numerous scientific uncertainties” about the virus unlike the Spanish Flu of a century ago. He has called on an army of “reservists” to come forward to help those working in the health services, including medical students who have yet to qualify. All doctors and nurses have been asked by their respecting professional organisations to be ready to join the “reservists” to help to control and treat the virus, including those who have retired.
“This is an exceptional crisis…we are prepared,” French president Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday. The Elysée has tightened measures around the president after his chief of staff was thought to have contracted the virus.Patrick Strzoda is awaiting tests and is staying at home “as a precaution”.
The Cannes Film Festival organisers said they remained “reasonably optimistic” the event could go ahead between 12-23 May. However the festival president Pierre Lescure did not rule out the possibility it would be cancelled if the health crisis worsened as expected.