Sunday, April 5 2020

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Coronavirus toll soars despite lockdowns as doctors overwhelmed

Update: March, 23/2020 - 11:30

 

President Trump ordered emergency medical stations for hotspots, hospitals scrambled to find ventilators, and a trillion-dollar proposal to rescue America's reeling economy crashed to defeat.  — AFP/VNA Photo

ROME — Coronavirus deaths soared across Europe and the United States on Sunday despite heightened restrictions, as Germany banned gatherings of more than two people and Chancellor Angela Merkel went into quarantine.

In the US, President Donald Trump ordered emergency medical stations for hotspots, hospitals scrambled to find ventilators, and a trillion-dollar proposal to rescue America's reeling economy crashed to defeat.

Germany and Greece became the latest countries to tighten curtailments on movement as the virus kept nearly a billion people indoors and intensified fears of a global recession unlike any experienced for decades.

"I can't tell you," Trump said when asked when the US economy would be reopened. Earlier, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that the US was heading towards its greatest crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The death toll from the virus -- which has upended lives and closed businesses and schools across the planet -- surged to more than 14,300 on Sunday, according to an AFP tally.

The epicentre is firmly in Europe after shifting from China where the illness first emerged late last year.

"I'm a little upset with China. I'll be honest with you...," Trump said referring to a lack of cooperation and information early on in the crisis.

Italy's world-topping toll from the pandemic approached 5,500 as the Mediterranean country reported another 651 deaths, a day after it overtook China for the highest number of fatalities.

Greece imposed a national lockdown and in Germany Merkel began quarantining at home after being treated by a doctor who has since tested positive for the virus.

But lockdown measures in Italy have done little to stem the outbreak and New Yorkers were finding it difficult on a spring weekend to put a stop to fun in the city that never sleeps.

New Zealand will impose a four-week lockdown in a bid to smother coronavirus infection rates and avoid the mass fatalities seen elsewhere in the world, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

Ardern said the South Pacific nation was fortunate its infection numbers remained relatively low, with 102 cases and no fatalities in the population of about five million.

But she said the latest data showed COVID-19 was now being transmitted between New Zealanders, rather than just being brought in by overseas arrivals, meaning radical action was needed.

Otherwise, she warned the number of cases would double every five days.

"If that happens unchecked, our health system will be inundated and tens of thousands of New Zealanders will die," Ardern told reporters.

"The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable," she said. "It would represent the greatest loss of New Zealand lives in our history and I will not take that chance."

She said a nationwide lockdown was "a simple but highly effective way to constrain the virus that gives it no place to go and will give our healthcare system a fighting chance".

Ardern said that New Zealand over the next 48 hours would move into COVID-19 alert level four, the top rung of the government's emergency response plan unveiled on Saturday.

It means schools and non-essential businesses will shut down and New Zealanders will be ordered to stay at home for the next four weeks.

While the number of cases in China -- which reported its first local infection in four days on Sunday -- has slumped dramatically since the crisis began, there are fears in Asia of "imported" cases from other hotspots like Europe.

Thailand reported its highest daily rise in cases, taking its total to nearly 600, while Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia have also reported a spike after numbers had plateaued earlier.

Normally bustling streets in New Delhi and Mumbai were mostly deserted and many shops shuttered during India's one-day nationwide "self-imposed curfew."

Australia has shut its borders to foreigners and non-residents and Pakistan has suspended international flights.

Olympic postponement?

Across Africa, where healthcare systems are limited and social distancing measures are difficult in crowded cities, the new coronavirus has infected more than 1,200.

The Middle East also remains on high alert, where Iran -- which suffered a major outbreak -- reported 129 deaths on Sunday. It has so far refused to restrict movements.

Chile on Sunday became the latest Latin American country to restrict movement, with a night-time curfew. Ecuador, which had already imposed such a lockdown, saw its deaths double to 14, the region's highest after Brazil.

In sport, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said postponing the 2020 Games was an option but that cancellation was "not on the agenda."

Accurate COVID-19 figures are difficult to obtain because many of the victims suffered from other illnesses, and infection rates are uncertain because of a lack of testing in many countries.

While the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are the hardest hit by the virus, the WHO has warned that young people are also vulnerable. — AFP

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