LONDON - As the coronavirus continues to spread in Europe, extraordinary measures are being put into place on the continent.
Organizers of the London Book Fair, one of the publishing industry’s biggest gatherings, have canceled the event. Airlines have also significantly cut back on flights.
In Italy, where the number of deaths from coronavirus is second only to China, the government has closed all schools and universities until mid-March and barred all sporting events with fans for the next month.
Cases of coronavirus worldwide continue to increase, with the flu-like illness now having reached 80 nations. The fast spread of the virus is forcing authorities in many countries to take drastic measures.
In Britain, the number of cases has spiked to 90 but so far the authorities, fearful of hurting the economy, have not yet introduced measures to restrict movement or cancel large gatherings.
Some events, however are being canceled, such as the London Book Fair, which was scheduled to be held next week. The gathering normally brings together some 25,000 writers, publishers and agents. British Health Minister Matt Hancock Thursday warned of tough weeks ahead in efforts to battle the spread of the virus.
His comments came after British regional airline Flybe collapsed in the wake of the outbreak, which dealt its final blow to the already ailing carrier. Other airlines in Europe are also struggling and having to ground some of their flights.
In Italy, the European country worst hit by COVID-19, with the death toll in excess of 148 and the number of cases surpassing 3,850, Italian Education Minister Lucia Azzolina on Wednesday made an announcement few were expecting.
She said that with the fast-changing epidemiological situation, the government had decided to close all schools and universities starting on Thursday until March 15.
Minister Azzolina added that she was well aware it was “a decision with an impact.” She said that as education minister, she obviously wanted students back in school as soon as possible.
Some students celebrated the idea of not going to school for a while even though the education minister made clear all efforts would be made by schools and universities to ensure students continue their studies at home and not fall behind.
Eighteen-year-old Riccardo Romano, who attends the Righi Liceum in Rome, expressed concern about the government decision.
The closure of schools, Romano said, was the right thing to do to limit the spread of the virus. But he said the government should also have closed discos and stopped bus travel because people are near each other also in these places and risk contracting the virus. He said students are not the ones who are most at risk.
The elderly are more of a concern and the Italian government has asked them to stay indoors as much as possible. It also advised everyone to keep at a safe distance of at least one meter from others, and refrain from kissing or hugging each other and shaking hands.
In addition, sporting events, including soccer games, will be played behind closed doors for the next month.