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Europe looking to extend virus lockdowns

European nations are examining extending the lockdowns put in place to try to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

A lockdown imposed on March 12 in Italy, where the number of deaths may soon overtake China, will now extend beyond the original March 25 end date.

France said its 15-day lockdown might also be extended, with European leaders reluctant to give any deadline for an end to crisis measures.

There have been 207,000 cases worldwide with more than 8,600 deaths.

The European Central Bank (ECB) has launched an emergency €750bn ($820bn; £700bn) package to ease the impact of the pandemic, with boss Christine Lagarde tweeting “there are no limits” to its commitment to the euro.

Europe’s markets stabilised on opening, moving into positive territory, although Asian markets remained volatile with the Nikkei closing down 1 per cent.

The European Union (EU) has introduced strict border controls. Travellers from outside are being turned away from airports and borders after the 27-country bloc imposed a 30-day ban to halt the spread of coronavirus.

But EU leaders also agreed that internal borders that have been erected in recent days should come down.

Separately, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he had tested positive for coronavirus.

He said on Twitter: “I am doing well and in good spirits.”

It is unclear how the pandemic will affect Brexit talks. The latest round was delayed on Wednesday but the UK government said it would look at different ways to continue discussions.

Italy shut down most businesses and banned public gatherings nationwide on March 12.

But Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday: “The measures we have taken… must be extended beyond their original deadline.”

He said the measures had meant “we have avoided the collapse of the system”.

But he told Corriere della Sera that “we will not be able to return immediately to life as it was before, even when the measures end”.

On Wednesday, Italy reported that 475 more people had died in just one day. Any similar figure on Thursday would see it pass China’s official death toll of 3,130, according to an ongoing list supplied by Johns Hopkins.

A report by the Istituto Superiore di Sanita into the deaths in Italy of 2,003 people confirmed to be positive for coronavirus found that three regions, all in the north, were by far the worst hit. -BBC

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