• Last updated: 5th March 2020
  • Countries are adopting different ways to contain the spread of coronavirus but there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
  • Towns and cities have been locked down and large gatherings banned.
  • Restrictions have been imposed on travellers from hard-hit areas, such as China, Italy and Iran.
  • Major sporting events, carnivals and events have been postponed or cancelled.

The COVID-19 coronavirus has now spread to every continent except Antarctica, challenging health systems and governments everywhere. Although the vast majority of the almost 90,000 cases around the world are in China where the virus originated, 64 different countries* are now affected.

For most, the virus represents a mild health issue, but for vulnerable members of society the consequences can be more serious. Containment remains a priority for all countries but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling the spread of the disease.

Whole towns are in lock-down in some places, while in others, schools, museums and religious centres have been closed and sporting and music events cancelled. Here's a look at how countries across the globe are handling the outbreak.

French President Emmanuel Macron kisses German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while his wife Brigitte looks on, ahead of a working dinner during the G7 summit at the Biarritz lighthouse, France August 24, 2019. Francois Mori/Pool via REUTERS - RC162E218CD0
The bise kiss is a traditional greeting in France and other parts of Europe.
Image: REUTERS/Francois Mori


The French government has advised its citizens to abandon the customary “bise” greeting – involving kissing each other on the cheek – in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Public gatherings of more than 5,000 people are also off limits, resulting in the cancellation of events like the Paris Half Marathon. Following the decision, the Louvre museum in Paris closed its doors to the public to mitigate the threat of infection posed by visitors arriving from different parts of the world.


As the Middle East’s worst hit country, nearly 3,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Iran, including more than 20 lawmakers. The country’s parliament has been suspended indefinitely and MPs have been asked to cancel all public meetings.

Iran’s death toll is the third highest, after China and Italy, and medical supplies are running short. Exports of face masks are banned for three months, while Iran’s factories produce new supplies for local people.


German Health Minister Jens Spahn has declared coronavirus a 'worldwide pandemic', something the World Health Organization has not concluded at this point. The government has banned the export of medical equipment, as Spahn said the virus there had not yet reached its peak.

United States

California has declared a state of emergency after the first death in the state, which brought the U.S. death toll to 11. The move follows Washington and Florida both declaring a state of emergency, with 10 of the deaths in Washington state. The government is preventing entry to anyone who has visited China in the last 14 days and has expanded testing nationwide.


Precautionary measures are in place in Switzerland, where gatherings of more than 1,000 people have been banned, forcing the cancellation of annual events like the Basel Carnival and the Geneva International Motor Show. Interior Minister Alain Berset has also advised against using the country’s customary three-kiss greeting.


Authorities in Austria imposed a ban on trains travelling on key international routes to and from Italy, such as the Brenner Pass. The move followed two suspected cases of coronavirus discovered on a train heading from Italy to southern Germany, which later tested negative. The temporary ban has now been lifted, allowing scheduled rail services between Austria and Italy to resume.


Italy has shut all its schools and universities for 10 days, as the government also banned public conferences and cultural events to curb the spread of the virus, which has already killed more than 100 people.

Some towns in northern Italy’s Lombardy region are in lockdown. Restaurants and businesses are closed, threatening to plunge the country into recession.

Epidemic curve of confirmed COVID-19 cases reported outside of China, by date of report and WHO region with complete days of reporting through 01 March 2020
Curve of confirmed Covid-19 cases outside of CHINA
Image: World Health Organization


At the epicenter of the outbreak, China has adopted aggressive measures to contain the virus, including city lockdowns, travel restrictions, extending school breaks and closing down theatres, sporting events and other public venues. Infection rates continue to increase, but the rate of increase has slowed.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s border with mainland China has been closed, preventing visitors from entering the territory. Without the throng of global tourists that usually flock to Hong Kong, the economy has been hit hard. Schools are closed until April, and many flights in and out have been restricted or cancelled. Hong Kong's recently unveiled budget included a government payment of more than $1,200 for each resident to help ease the economic pain.


Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for all elementary, middle and high schools to close until late March, impacting millions of students. The threat posed by the virus could jeopardize the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, due to be held in the summer, although no decision to cancel the event has been announced.

South Korea

A worker holds face masks to sell to people standing in a long queue at a post office, after a shortage of masks amid the rise in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19, in Daegu, South Korea, March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon - RC2SCF9N4HEG
Face masks are in short supply in hard-hit areas.
Image: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

South Korea has the most cases of any nation outside of China. Strict self-isolation requirements are in force throughout the country, with fines or a potential prison sentence awaiting anyone found violating the rules.

After military personnel tested positive for the disease, planned annual joint military exercises with US forces have been put on hold.


The island state was quick to restrict the movements of anyone who recently travelled to China or parts of South Korea. Strict hospital and home quarantine rules have been imposed.

A text and web-based solution was launched in February, requiring people under home quarantine restrictions to report their whereabouts to the government.

Saudi Arabia

No coronavirus cases have been detected in Saudi Arabia, but there have been some in regional neighbours like Kuwait and Bahrain. Authorities have barred entry to the kingdom for foreign pilgrims from 25 countries, preventing visits to Islam’s two holiest sites – Mecca and Medina.

United Arab Emirates

Ferry services between the UAE and Iran have been suspended and all commercial ships must provide health statements for crew members 72 hours before arriving in the country’s busy ports.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Although different countries have adopted their own approaches to the disease, regular hand washing and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth can help slow down the spread, according to the World Health Organization.

The virus can live for hours, sometimes days, on door handles, taps and other surfaces we come in contact with, so regular washing can help prevent contaminated droplets being transferred.

* Latest WHO figures as at 2 March 2020