TOP OF THE HOUR:
– Serbia closes its main airport for all passenger flights, plans to shut down land borders.
– The EU to help bloc members facing shortages of ventilators and protective masks.
– Spain has registered 20 percent increase in new cases of the coronavirus.
– The coronavirus pandemic has infected 222,000 people and killed more than 9,100. About 84,500 have recovered.
BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbia has closed its main airport for all passenger flights and is considering a complete shutdown of its land borders in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The government says Nikola Tesla airport in Belgrade was closed for all but cargo flights. The other Serbian civilian airport in the central city of Nis was closed on Wednesday.
Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic says the complete closure of the borders is being considered because some 70,000 Serbs and their families working in West European countries have returned to Serbia in the last four days despite appeals by authorities not to do so. It created huge traffic jams on the borders with Croatia and Hungary.
He says all those arriving will self-isolate or be sent to quarantines set up on different locations.
Serbia, with 97 coronavirus cases confirmed so far, has introduced some of the toughest restrictive measures in Europe. They include an overnight curfew for all citizens and a ban on leaving their homes for all those older than 65.
BRUSSELS – The EU’s commissioner for crisis management has announced a 50-million euros plan to create a stockpile of medical equipment, including ventilators and protective masks across the bloc that should help member states facing shortages.
The EU commission says the reserve of emergency medical equipment will also include therapeutics and laboratory supplies. Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency urged EU researchers to join forces in their search for treatments of COVID-19.
MADRID – Spain has registered a 20 percent increase in new cases of coronavirus.
The total in the country is up by 3,431 to 17,147. The number of deaths from the virus were up by 179 to 767.
The ministry says 939 people were in intensive care, 165 more than Tuesday.
LONDON – British supermarkets have brought in measures to control the coronavirus-induced panic-buying that’s seen many of their shelves emptied and elderly and vulnerable people often unable to get the products they need.
Tesco, Britain’s largest supermarket chain, is limiting customers to three items each across its entire product range. And Sainsbury’s reserved the first hour of trading in its stores Thursday for elderly and vulnerable customers.
Jim Gibson, 72, from southeast London, was one who took up that invite from Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe at his local store.
He said the experience was â€œrelatively trauma-freeâ€ even though it was evident that many people under 70 hadn’t taken the CEO’s words to heart.
Most of the products he was looking for were there, though many tinned items were â€œleaping off the shelvesâ€ and he couldn’t get the medicines that he and his 73-year-old wife wanted.
Gibson understands the restrictions being imposed and the likely tougher ones to come, but he wants to impress on the British government the need for mass testing.
â€œYou can’t go on ignoring World Health Organization guidelines,â€ he said. â€œIf they’re wrong, who the hell is right? And their thing is test, test, test.â€
PARIS – Virus or no, France is trying to maintain its democratic checks and balances.
The lower house of parliament held an unusual session of questions to the government Thursday, so that legislators could interrogate ministers about their handling of the spreading virus. Some critics accuse the French government of being too slow to order strict confinement measures that went into place this week, nearly two months after the first cases appeared in the country.
Only a couple of dozen members of the 577-seat National Assembly attended, sitting widely spaced out in the 18th-century Palais Bourbon overlooking the Seine River in Paris.
Much of the discussion concerned masks, but no one in the Assembly wore one. Speakers were under orders to keep a distance from the microphone, so the volume was inconsistent. Participants were ordered not to move around, and entries and exits were staggered.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark – The Danish government is now urging senior citizens to avoid public transportation.
Denmarkâ€™s Transportation Minister Benny Engelbrecht said Thursday that â€œwe have seen more senior citizens being severely affected by the coronavirus.â€
â€œElderly people can reduce the risk of being infected by avoiding bus, train and subway. That is why we now come with this joint appeal,â€ he said in a statement with two of Denmarkâ€™s main organizations representing the interests of the elderly.
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian President Joko Widodo says that he and his wife have tested negative for coronavirus, after coming in contact with a Cabinet minister infected with COVID-19.
Accompanied by his wife, Iriana, in an official video released by the presidential palace Thursday, Widodo said they have taken a test for coronavirus on Sunday and “the results, thank God, have come back negative.”
Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi is now being hospitalized with coronavirus and isolated in Jakarta’s Gatot Subroto army hospital.
Sumadi had attended a Cabinet meeting a day before being rushed to the hospital, raising fears that the country’s leadership had been exposed to COVID-19.
MARSEILLE, France – The Costa Luminosa trans-Atlantic cruise ship, which has recorded several cases of COVID-19 among its passengers, has docked in the French Mediterranean port city of Marseille on Thursday morning.
More than 1,400 people, including around 200 Americans, are on the cruise. French authorities have allowed the ship entry and to stay for up to four days under strict conditions.
It is not known whether passengers will be allowed off, given the current stringent restrictions imposed in France amid the coronavirus pandemic.
BERLIN – The German state governor of Bavaria says a state-wide curfew may be necessary if people don’t follow official advice on restricting their social contacts.
Markus Soeder told an emergency session of the German state’s parliament that drastic steps had already been taken to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, but further measures might be necessary.
Soeder noted that a curfew has already been imposed in the small town of Mitterteich, near the Czech border, after a large number of infections there were linked to a recent beer festival.
He told lawmakers, who were seated spaced far apart from each other in the state assembly, that Bavaria was “in maximum crisis mode.”
VIENNA – Austria’s western province of Tyrol has placed all 279 municipalities under quarantine, banning anyone from leaving their town or village except to commute to work within the Alpine region.
The measures are a step up from those already in place for Austria as a whole because of the new coronavirus.
Tyrol governor Guenther Platter said late Wednesday that the extreme measures were necessary in light of the large numbers of infections with COVID-19. Tyrol has registered 474 cases – more than a quarter of Austria’s total of 1,646 cases.
Platter has come under fire for not moving swiftly to shut down bars in ski resorts such as Ischgl, where dozens of foreign tourists were infected and carried the virus as far as Iceland and Norway.
BRUSSELS – Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief negotiator for the future relationship with Britain after Brexit, says he has been infected with the coronavirus.
Barnier tweeted that he is doing well and is in good spirits.
“I am following all the necessary instructions, as is my team,” Barnier said. â€œFor all those affected already, and for all those currently in isolation, we will get through this together.â€
ZAGREB, Croatia – The Croatian government is limiting entry to the country for 30 days, closing cafes and most shops and banning gatherings of more than five people in its governmentâ€™s latest effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The entry ban includes all non-essential travel into the country. Only returning Croatian citizens and those from European Union countries transiting to their states will be allowed to cross as of Thursday.
Food shops, pharmacies and bakeries will remain open. Cinemas and museums have closed and religious gatherings are banned.
Croatia has recorded 99 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Thursday. One person who was infected with the virus has died, but pathologists will determine whether it was from the virus.
BUDAPEST, Hungary – The Hungarian government says it will continue to allow convoys of Romanian and Bulgarians trying to get home to transit through the country overnight.
Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, said Thursday that the convoys would continue to be allowed to enter Hungary at its main border crossing with Austria as long as Romania keeps its pledge to let the cars enter its territory.
Hungary has closed its borders to passenger traffic to all except its own citizens, but has begun allowing Romanians and Bulgarians to drive through the country on roads designated as “humanitarian corridors” between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Gulyas said that Hungary may consider allowing the convoys to pass through during daytime hours if “extraordinary circumstances” arise.
TOKYO – Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the government has donated 5 billion yen ($46 million) to the World Health Organization as part of Japan’s emergency economic package, to help its ongoing fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
ROME – Italy is on track to surpass China in the number of coronavirus-related deaths, a gruesome milestone that is being blamed on the country’s large elderly population, its overwhelmed health care system and the delayed imposition of complete lockdown measures across the epicenter, Lombardy.
Italy registered 2,978 deaths on Wednesday after another 475 people died. Given Italy has been averaging more than 350 deaths since March 15, it is likely to overtake Chinaâ€™s 3,249 dead when Thursdayâ€™s figures are released.
U.N. and Italian health authorities have cited a variety of reasons for Italyâ€™s high toll, key among them its large elderly population, who are particularly susceptible to developing serious complications from the virus. Italy has the worldâ€™s second oldest population after Japanâ€™s and the vast majority of Italyâ€™s dead – 87% – were over age 70.
In addition, virtually all of Italyâ€™s dead had one or more underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension or renal insufficiency.
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Thousands of people attended an ordination ceremony for a Catholic bishop on the Indonesian island of Flores despite calls from authorities to avoid mass gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Images of the ordination ceremony posted on social media showed people inside the Ruteng cathedral seated next to each other and not complying with social distancing measures.
A priest who attended the ceremony estimated that about 4,000 people gathered inside and around the church.
Sebastian Rida, a catholic resident of Ruteng who witnessed the ceremony, said officers from the local health agency asked people to use masks and hand sanitizers, but not everyone did. Rida said he ignored the threat of the spread of the virus while attending the ceremony.
Indonesia has 309 confirmed cases of the virus and 25 deaths.
MOSCOW – Russia has reported its first coronavirus death, a 79-year-old woman who died in a hospital in Moscow.
Health officials said she was hospitalized last week and suffered from a variety of chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
Russia has registered 147 cases of the coronavirus and nine recoveries. The authorities have taken a variety of measures to slow the spread of the disease, such as closing the borders for foreigners and testing of everyone returning from countries affected by the pandemic. Starting from next week, all schools will be closed. The government has repeatedly urged Russians to stay home and limit all contacts.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said additional measures might be taken as the outbreak unfolds.
BANGKOK — Two Southeast Asian countries have reported their biggest one-day jumps in confirmed cases of the coronavirus, as returnees from a religious ceremony in Malaysia push the totals up.
Indonesia reported 82 new cases for a total of 309. The total includes 25 deaths and 15 people who have recovered.
Thailand reported 60 new cases, bringing its total to 272. It has registered one death and discharged 42 recovered patients.
Meanwhile, Malaysia still leads the region with 900 cases, including 110 new ones reported Thursday. It has had two deaths.
Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore have reported cases involving people who attended a mass rally of 16,000 Muslims outside Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia at the beginning of March.
LONDON – Londoners are being urged to stay off public transport as authorities consider imposing tougher curbs on people mixing with one another in the British capital.
London, home to almost 9 million people, is the center of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, with about a third of its confirmed cases.
Transit operator Transport for London said it will close up to 40 London Underground stations and reduce subway and bus service starting Thursday. Mayor Sadiq Khan said the reduced service would â€œallow critical workers to make essential journeys.â€
Britons have been urged to work from home and avoid bars, shops and restaurants to slow the spread of the virus. But unlike countries such as Italy and France, Britain has not ordered bars to close or restricted peopleâ€™s movement.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said â€œfurther and fasterâ€ measures may be needed in London if people do not practice social distancing. He told reporters on Wednesday that â€œwe rule nothing out.â€
The British government plans to introduce a bill in Parliament on Thursday that will give authorities stronger powers to respond to the pandemic. The bill gives police and immigration officers powers to detain people and put them in appropriate isolation facilities if necessary to protect public health.
Britain has also doubled, to 20,000, the number of troops on standby to help civilian authorities in an emergency.
LONDON – A state visit to Britain by the emperor and empress of Japan has been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masakois had been due to visit in May, staying with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle. State visits are large ceremonial events involving military honor guards and state banquets.
Buckingham Palace says the trip will be rescheduled.
The 93-year-old queen is moving from Buckingham Palace in London to Windsor Castle, west of the city, during the outbreak.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani authorities closed shrines of Sufi saints in the capital and elsewhere and visits to museums, archaeological and tourist sites were banned as cases of coronavirus jumped to 301, mostly in pilgrims returning from Iran.
Two people who had returned from Saudi Arabia and Dubai became Pakistan’s first victims when they died Wednesday in the northwest.
It spread panic among those who were not taking infections seriously.
Pakistani authorities on Thursday were planning to quarantine hundreds of pilgrims who returned from Iran. These pilgrims will be kept at isolated buildings in central Pakistan for two weeks.
Pakistan has already shut schools and students have been forced to leave hostels.
MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is in home quarantine after being exposed to a health officer infected with the new virus.
He leads the Philippines’ response to the epidemic. Duque says he is experiencing mild allergy symptoms and his virus test results are expected in a few days.
Duque said he would continue leading from home an inter-agency group enforcing quarantine regulations in the countryâ€™s main northern region of Luzon, which includes the densely populated capital of Manila.
The Philippines has reported 202 infections, with 17 deaths.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The Dutch government is limiting entry to the country for 30 days from Thursday evening in its latest effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The entry ban covers all non-essential travel into the country for visitors from outside the European Union, the United Kingdom and countries that are part of Europeâ€™s passport-free travel zone known as Schengen.
Exceptions also will be made for travelers with residence permits for the Netherlands and people in â€œvitalâ€ occupations such as health workers.
As of Wednesday, the Netherlands had recorded 58 coronavirus deaths in the outbreak and 2,051 positive tests.
MAKASSAR, Indonesia – Indonesia halted a mass congregation of nearly 9,000 Muslim pilgrims and began quarantining and checking their health to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
The four-day gathering in a rural area on south Sulawesi island wasn’t approved by authorities and drew fears it could widely spread the virus in the world’s fourth most populous nation.
It was organized by Jamaat Tabligh, a Muslim missionary movement that held a similar mass event in Malaysia now linked to hundreds of cases in several countries.
CANBERRA, Australia – Australia is banning incoming passengers who are not citizens, permanent residents or direct family members of residents.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday the change will take effect at 9 p.m. AEDT (10:00 GMT).
Morrison says 80% or cases of the new coronavirus detected in Australia have been infected overseas or by direct contact with someone who had been infected overseas. Overseas arrivals are currently expected to self-isolate for 14 days.
New Zealand also is closing its border to people who aren’t citizens or residents from Friday.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had become increasingly concerned that visitors to New Zealand have not been properly isolating themselves for 14 days as required. There are a few exceptions, including children and partners of residents.
MEXICO CITY – Mexicoâ€™s health department has confirmed the countryâ€™s first death from the new coronavirus.
The department wrote on Twitter late Wednesday that the person began showing symptoms on March 9 and had diabetes. It provided no more details about how, where or from whom the person became infected.
Mexico has 118 confirmed cases of infection and officials expect the numbers to rapidly increase in the coming weeks.
Authorities have been urging people to keep their distance in social situations and schools have halted classes.
Spring equinox visits to Mexicoâ€™s pre-Hispanic pyramids have also been stopped.
Mexican authorities will close off the Teotihuacan archaeological site Saturday and Sunday to prevent large gatherings and the potential spread of coronavirus.
As many as 100,000 people climb the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon at Teotihuacan each spring to receive â€œenergy.”
The Yucatan governor earlier said the ruins at Chichen Itza will be closed Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Instituteâ€™s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.