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NEW DELHI — India’s prime minister ordered all 1.3 billion people in the country to stay inside their homes for three weeks starting Wednesday — the biggest and most severe action undertaken anywhere to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“There will be a total ban of coming out of your homes,” the prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced on television Tuesday night, giving Indians less than four hours’ notice before the order took effect at 12:01 a.m.

“Every district, every lane, every village will be under lockdown,” Modi said.

“If you can’t handle these 21 days, this country will go back 21 years,” he said. “The only option is social distancing, to remain away from each other. There is no way out to escape from coronavirus besides this.”

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Modi did not make clear how people would get food, water, and other necessities during the lock-down, or how they would maintain a safe distance from one another in the cramped spaces many now live. Nor did the prime minister make clear whether exceptions would be made for workers deemed critical to keep the country — the world’s most populous nation after China — functioning.

The breadth and depth of such a challenge is staggering in a country where hundreds of millions of citizens are destitute and countless millions live in packed urban areas with poor sanitation and weak public health care.

Though India’s number of reported coronavirus cases remains relatively low — around 500 — the fear is that, should the virus hit as it has in the United States, Europe, or China, the consequences would lead to a disaster far bigger than anywhere else.

New York Times

Egypt announces 2-week nightly curfew to slow virus

CAIRO — Egypt will impose a two-week, nightly curfew in the Arab world’s most populous country in an effort to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, its prime minister announced Tuesday as the International Monetary Fund warned that a shortage of medical supplies could affect the Mideast’s poorest nations.

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There are more than 31,000 confirmed cases of the virus across the Mideast, the vast majority in the hard-hit nation of Iran. While most recover from the COVID-19 illness that the virus causes, bottoming crude oil prices have put additional strain on even the wealthiest countries of the region. That in turn could affect their ability to spend on needed supplies as the virus challenges medical systems worldwide.

Egyptian Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly told a news conference that the 11-hour curfew from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. would go into effect Wednesday across the country. He said many kinds of transportation will be halted during the curfew.

Egypt has 366 confirmed cases and 21 fatalities, including two senior military officers.

Madbouly also announced the continued closure of airports, schools, and universities until April 12. He said shops and malls will be closed Fridays and Saturdays, the weekend in Egypt, and will be open from 7 a.m. till 5 p.m. the rest of the week. Groceries, bakeries, and pharmacies would be excluded from the closure order.

Associated Press

Confusion reigns, as Britain clamps down to fight spread

LONDON — Confusion rippled through Britain Tuesday, a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a three-week halt to all nonessential activity to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

Streets were empty but some subways were full. Hairdressers were closed, but construction sites were open. Divorced parents wondered whether their children could continue to see them both.

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The government has ordered most stores to close, banned gatherings of three or more people who don’t live together, and told everyone apart from essential workers to leave home only to buy food and medicines or to exercise.

“You must stay at home,” Johnson said in a somber address to the nation on Monday evening.

But photos showed crowded trains on some London subway lines Tuesday morning amid confusion about who was still allowed to go to work.

Many families were also confused by the new rules.

After Johnson said people should not mingle outside of their household units, separated parents asked whether their children could still travel between their homes. In a series of television and radio interviews, Cabinet minister Michael Gove initially said children should not move between households, before clarifying that it was permitted.

Associated Press

Antarctica only continent to be untouched by COVID-19

One continent has not yet confirmed a case of the novel coronavirus. It’s a place of barren ice, where the all-consuming cold and darkness of winter is fast approaching.

Over the past few months, some 4,000 people from around the world have watched from Antarctica as the coronavirus pandemic, which began in Wuhan, China, swept around the globe, reaching all but its southernmost reaches.

‘‘You’d better stay there; you’re safer there,’’ Alberto Della Rovere, leader of the 35th Italian expedition to Antarctica, said his colleagues at home told him via WhatsApp.

For now, they appear to be right. Even in normal times, only a limited number of people are allowed in and out of Antarctica, with medical workers screening for signs of influenza and other illnesses before arrival.

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‘‘Right now, this, Antarctica, is the safest place in the world,’’ Della Rovere said. ‘‘There are no outside contacts, and we’re far away from any settlement.’’

Washington Post

Two months later, China to ease lock-down on Hubei

HONG KONG — The Chinese province of Hubei, where the coronavirus first emerged, on Wednesday will begin allowing most of its 60 million residents to leave after nearly two months of lock-down, in a sign of the government’s confidence that its tough measures have worked to control the outbreak.

Wuhan, the provincial capital and the city hardest hit by the epidemic, will remain sealed off until April 8, although public transportation there will start running again, the government said.

But even as authorities announced the eased restrictions, new questions were being raised about the virus’s toll in China and whether the threat had fully passed. Hours before the loosening was announced, officials in Wuhan, after several days of reporting zero new local infections, said a doctor there had tested positive for the virus.

News reports have also claimed that health officials are finding a number of people with asymptomatic infections but not publicizing those figures, raising fears that the virus is still silently spreading. In addition, cases continue to climb among people newly arriving in China.

New York Times

Bodies of virus victims found in nursing homes in Spain

MADRID — Spanish army troops disinfecting nursing homes have found, to their horror, some residents living in squalor among the infectious bodies of people that authorities suspect have died from the new coronavirus. Prosecutors have launched a judicial probe.

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Defense Minister Margarita Robles said the elderly were “completely left to fend for themselves, or even dead, in their beds.” She said the discovery included several nursing homes and several bodies but did not give exact locations for the nursing homes or exactly how many bodies were found.

The news came as Spain on Tuesday announced a record daily rise of 6,584 new coronavirus infections, bringing the overall total to 39,673. The number of deaths also jumped by a record number of 514 to 2,696.

Madrid took over a public skating rink Tuesday after the city morgue overflowed. To date, 1,535 people have died in the hard-hit Spanish capital, more than half of the national total. The region has over 12,350 infections.

Associated Press