290 million students out of school as global virus battle intensifies

More than 95,000 people have been infected and over 3,200 have died worldwide from the virus, which has now reached some 80 countries and territories.

South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant as part of preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at a market in Daegu on 2 March 2020. Picture: AFP

ROME - Almost 300 million students worldwide faced weeks at home on Thursday with Italy the latest country to shut schools over the deadly new coronavirus, as the IMF urged an all-out global offensive against the epidemic.

More than 95,000 people have been infected and over 3,200 have died worldwide from the virus, which has now reached some 80 countries and territories.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom declared an emergency following the state's first coronavirus fatality - raising the US death toll to 11 - and a cruise ship was kept offshore after passengers and crew members developed symptoms.

Most global deaths and infections are in China, where the virus first emerged late last year, prompting the country to quarantine entire cities, temporarily shut factories and close schools indefinitely.

As the virus has spread, other countries have also implemented extraordinary measures, with Unesco saying Wednesday that 13 countries have closed schools, affecting 290.5 million children, while nine others have implemented localised closures.

While temporary school closures during crises are not new, Unesco chief Audrey Azoulay said, "the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education."

Italy on Wednesday ordered schools and universities shut until 15 March, ramping up its response as the national death toll rose to 107, the deadliest outbreak outside China.

South Korea - the country with the largest number of cases outside China with nearly 6,000 - has postponed the start of the next term until 23 March.

In Japan, nearly all schools are closed after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for classes to be cancelled through March and spring break, slated for late March through early April.

Some 120 schools closed in France this week.