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France fights mask hoarding; Virus deaths soar in Italy

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

A tourist wearing a mask walks away from the Louvre museum in Paris, Monday, March 2, 2020. The Louvre Museum was closed again Monday as management was meeting with staff worried about the spread of the new virus in the world's most-visited museum. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS – France requisitioned protective masks and sent tens of thousands of students home from school, deaths in Italy soared and Spain isolated dozens of health workers Tuesday as the new coronavirus spread further into Europe.

With the new virus taking firmer hold on the continent, Europe faced many of the same complications seen in Asia weeks ago.

The number of virus patients dying in Italy rose to 79 — the most of any nation outside of China, where the epidemic first emerged late last year. Flights to Italy, and especially Milan and Venice, were dropped, with the Finnish and Swedish airlines suspending service for at least two weeks. The number of virus cases in Italy jumped to over 2,500.

Travelers from northern Italy, along with South Korea and Iran, now face a ban in Singapore.

Italy has closed schools in the hard-hit regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna. All student outings have been canceled nationwide. In addition, a handful of schools are closed or under quarantine in Germany and even in Poland, which has no confirmed cases so far.

Hoarding was starting to become a problem. French President Emmanuel Macron announced in a tweet Tuesday that his government was requisitioning all current and future stocks of protective masks in order to ensure their distribution to virus patients and health workers.

The head of the World Health Organization, meanwhile, demanded an end to hoarding of masks, gloves and other medical supplies, which he said has caused a “severe and increasing disruption” to the global supply of personal protective equipment.

"We can't stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Around 120 French schools were ordered to close, most in Brittany and the Oise region north of Paris. Cases of patients with the new COVID-19 virus in France rose to 212, with four deaths.

France's education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, told LCI television that more schools could close and confirmed that he had ordered a freeze on all school trips. But he cautioned against rushing to a general shutdown of the education system.

“It wouldn’t make sense to confine everyone at home, to paralyze the country,” he said.

Around 100 health workers were being kept under isolation in northern Spain and at least 120 more were being closely watched after at least five doctors and nurses were infected in hospitals, said the Basque health regional minister, Nekane Murga. Health authorities in northern Spain were also speedily hiring new doctors to fend off a possible shortage of health professionals.

Spain, which has 150 cases of the virus, on Tuesday reported its first virus death.

British authorities laid out plans Tuesday to confront a COVID-19 epidemic, saying the new coronavirus could spread within weeks from a few dozen confirmed cases to millions of infections, with thousands of people in the U.K. at risk of death.

Officials hope the most drastic measures won't be needed. Britain may not be able to stop the virus, but it has one vital advantage in fighting it: a head start. The country only has 51 cases so far.

In Haugesund, southern Norway, a German cruise ship with 1,200 passengers was blocked for a day while awaiting the results of two passengers tested for the virus, Norwegian broadcaster NRK said. The Aida Aura was supposed to leave Monday but was still in Haugesund on Tuesday afternoon and passengers were being kept on board. The ship's operator later said the two German passengers tested negative and the ship hoped to be underway soon.

The Geneva International Motor Show resorted to putting automakers' product unveilings and news conferences online Tuesday after this year's show was canceled. BMW presented its sleek i4 electric concept car at a digital news conference from Munich, while competitors Daimler and Volkswagen held their own online events.

At Paris Fashion Week, Chanel's fall collection was streamed online for the many VIPs and fashion editors who stayed away. Some who showed up in person donned CC-branded face masks.

Ukraine reported its first confirmed case of the new virus in a man who had recently arrived from Italy, the epicenter of Europe's outbreak.


Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak