Much of life comes to a standstill as countries shut themselves off from the rest of the world

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    The impact to the global economy will be severe. Yet the larger question arising from empty international airports and backed-up land borders may be the long-haul effect of the pandemic on everything from freedom of movement to asylum claims to trade.

    “The question is, when the health crisis recedes, be that six months, one year, or two years from now, are we going to see the protectionist measures related to the health crisis recede too?” said Stephanie Segal, a former senior economist at the International Monetary Fund and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Certainly they will, but will they ever go back to precrisis levels?”

    In the meantime, the pandemic is stranding travelers and upending everything from refugee flows to wedding rites.

    In South America, still less impacted than other regions, many nations are striving to keep it that way by imposing some of the strictest border controls in the world. Peru and Bolivia have suspended international flights, restricted crossings at land borders, and deployed police and the military on the streets.

    As concerns mount about the ability of crisis-plagued Venezuela to control the pandemic, its neighbors have sealed its borders. The closures have raised fears of a bottleneck that could force migrants — as well as Venezuelans who flocked to Colombia to buy or sell food and other supplies to live — to risk dangerous trips across illegal crossing controlled by armed gangs and guerrilla groups.

    Police prevent Venezuelans from entering Colombia on Sunday.
    Police prevent Venezuelans from entering Colombia on Sunday. (Schneyder Mendoza/AFP/Getty Images)

    Vianney Durán, an unemployed 22-year-old law student living in the Venezuelan border city of La Fría, is one of the many who crossed regularly into Colombia to buy food and medicine. He has also survived off remittances from relatives working abroad that he only was able to collect on the other side of the border.

    Now, that lifeline is closed.

    “If we are not killed by the coronavirus, people will starve to death if they don’t do something,” Durán said.

    “I’ve been preparing for my hearing, but now I don’t know if it will happen,” said Daniel, a 20-year-old Venezuelan asylum seeker with HIV who declined to give his full name for fear of repercussions from authorities. Daniel, who was stuck in Piedras Negras, Mexico, has a U.S. asylum hearing scheduled for March 31. “With my immune system, I need to be very careful.”

    In continental Europe, leaders rushed guards to reoccupy long-disused border posts to start turning away nonresidents.

    Trucks backed up for dozens of miles on either side of Poland, which imposed a particularly stringent quarantine on anyone entering the country, leading to fears that other parts of Eastern Europe would soon run out of supplies.

    “Right now there are two very strong feelings,” said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, whose country was caught on the isolated side of the Polish blockade. “One, ‘Let’s close down everything.’ Another is, ‘Wait a minute, we have seen we are too interconnected.’ ”

    E.U. leaders in Brussels moved quickly to allow truck transportation to continue, fearing that shortages of medical supplies could worsen the pandemic. But by week’s end, there were still pileups at borders across the continent.

    In sub-Saharan Africa, sweeping travel restrictions have gone into effect despite only 353 confirmed cases across its 48 countries as of Friday, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly every country has imposed total or near-total entry restrictions on nonresident foreigners and suspended issuance of new visas. More than a dozen have closed airports to international flights.

    Staff members of local NGO Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) sit on a motorbike in front of their newly installed hand-washing station in the Kibera slum in Nairobi on Friday.
    Staff members of local NGO Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) sit on a motorbike in front of their newly installed hand-washing station in the Kibera slum in Nairobi on Friday. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

    Karen Mwalo, 34, was planning a marital ceremony with her husband known as an “itara” on April 18, in which Mwalo’s family would visit the homestead of her husband’s parents in western Kenya. Some family members were coming from as far as Denmark and the Netherlands.

    “We can’t go ahead,” said Mwalo, who said they have postponed their plans until at least July. It is “not good to be risking people. You never know. It’s already a breeding ground here.”

    Brazil, which has at least 700 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, by far Latin America’s most, is taking a more relaxed approach that has led local governments to act. Beginning Saturday, the state of Rio de Janeiro will effectively seal itself off from the rest of the country, and the city of Rio will seal itself off from the rest of the state.

    “It is a painful process to interfere in this way with people’s lives, but it’s necessary,” said Wilson Witzel, the governor of Rio de Janeiro state.

    Passengers remain stranded at the international airport in San Luis Talpa, El Salvador, on Monday.
    Passengers remain stranded at the international airport in San Luis Talpa, El Salvador, on Monday. (Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images)

    In the Middle East, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia halted international flights over the past week and sealed their land borders. Other countries in the region have sharply curtailed the flights, and the United Arab Emirates is allowing entry only to the small number of people who are UAE citizens.

    After initially only restricting travel from the most infected parts of the world — China’s Hubei province and regions in South Korea, Iran and Italy — Japan suddenly switched gears.

    Earlier this month, Japan canceled 3 million visas issued to Chinese and South Korean visitors, and it said anyone arriving from those countries would be subjected to a 14-day quarantine. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said travelers from Europe, Egypt and Iran would have to self-quarantine for 14 days and refrain from using public transport.

    India, the world’s second-most populous nation, has progressively sealed itself off from the world as the crisis has intensified. On Thursday, it became the largest country to announce a one-week total ban, starting March 22, on all arriving commercial flights from abroad.

    For people such as Rupa Subramanya, 40, the virtual walls coming up around the world have rendered her life unrecognizable. For the past decade, Subramanya and her husband, both economists, have split their time between India and Canada, traveling back and forth about four times a year. But when she attempted to fly from Mumbai to Ottawa on March 19, she encountered a maze of obstacles, including gate agents telling her that she did not meet Canada’s new restrictions on entry, even though she did.

    Mumbai’s normally bustling airport was “desolate,” she said. Standing in a near-empty terminal “was like being in a zombie movie,” she said. She missed her flight to Canada, but she will try again at the end of March if India does not extend its ban. “Who’s to say [the ban] is not going to last longer?” she asked. “It sounds ludicrous, but everything that I thought was ludicrous is happening.”

    Only a few drivers ride on a highway in Mumbai on Friday.
    Only a few drivers ride on a highway in Mumbai on Friday. (Divyakant Solanki/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

    Max Bearak in Nairobi, Kevin Sieff in Mexico City, Michael Birnbaum in Brussels, Joanna Slater in New Delhi, Ana Herrero in Caracas, Terrence McCoy in Rio de Janeiro, Simon Denyer in Tokyo and Liz Sly in Beirut contributed to this report.

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