Italy overtakes China with most virus deaths, California goes on lockdown


PTI, Mar 20, 2020, 10:02 AM IST

Los Angeles: Italy has surpassed China as the country with the most deaths from coronavirus as California, home to more than 39 million people, was placed under lockdown in the most drastic containment measure yet by a US state.

President Donald Trump said meanwhile that the United States is fast-tracking antimalarial drugs for use as a treatment and lashed out at China for not informing the world earlier about the original outbreak.

China for its part reported on Friday a second day with no new domestic cases since the virus appeared in the central city of Wuhan in December, before spreading worldwide.

While there was a glimmer of hope in China, several nations tightened their borders and imposed lockdowns, trapping tens of millions of people in their homes.

And the UN chief warned “millions” could die if the virus spreads unchecked around the globe.

World leaders also unleashed nearly a trillion dollars to prop up the teetering global economy, only to see the once-in-a-century pandemic seemingly spiral further out of control.

The death toll soared in Europe as Italy announced another 427 fatalities on Thursday, taking its total to 3,405, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.

China has officially reported 3,245 deaths from the virus, which can cause respiratory failure, particularly in the elderly.

France reported 108 more deaths over the last 24 hours, bringing the total number to 372.

Globally, the death toll from the virus has risen to over 9,800 with more than 232,650 cases in 158 countries and territories, according to the AFP tally.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Thursday of the virus’s potentially devastating effects.

“If we let the virus spread like wildfire especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world — it would kill millions of people,” Guterres said.

The number of infections and deaths in the rest of the world has surpassed those in China, which appears to have staunched the virus with strict measures including a complete quarantine of Wuhan since January.

Trump, who has come under fire for his response to the crisis, charged Thursday that the world was paying for China’s lack of transparency about the outbreak there.

“It could have been contained to that one area of China where it started. And certainly, the world is paying a big price for what they did,” he said.

Trump said US authorities were fast-tracking antimalarials chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for use as a coronavirus treatment, making them available “almost immediately.” The drugs are synthetic forms of quinine, which has been used to treat malaria for centuries.

As the toll surged in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the national lockdown, which has been copied around Europe, would be prolonged to April 3.

France also mooted extending its two-week lockdown ordered this week by President Emmanuel Macron, as the interior minister blasted “idiots” who flout home confinement rules and put others at risk.

In Argentina, President Alberto Fernandez announced a “preventative and compulsory” lockdown from Friday to March 31, while Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state will close its famed beaches as well as restaurants and bars for 15 days to try to contain the pandemic.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state’s lockdown would begin Thursday evening in a “recognition of our interdependence.” In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country could “turn the tide” on coronavirus within 12 weeks — but only if people heed advice to avoid social contact.

The disease continued to hit high-profile figures with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Monaco’s Prince Albert II and at least a half-dozen NBA players in the United States among those testing positive.

Also falling victim to the pandemic was the G7 summit in June, which was meant to be hosted by Trump at the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington. The group of seven wealthy democracies will now meet via videoconference.

With countries paralyzed by the pandemic and stock markets imploding, policymakers this week unleashed a wave of measures to shore up the global economy.

The European Central Bank announced a 750-billion-euro bond-buying scheme, dubbed the “big bazooka.” In the United States, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged Congress to pass a USD 1-trillion emergency stimulus package.

Wall Street finished higher Thursday following a volatile session as investors weighed the government stimulus measures against some of the first data pointing to a sharp US economic slowdown.

European stocks staged a rebound on the stimulus news, although Asian markets took another beating.

The battle is only just beginning across the rest of the world, with the shadow of the virus lengthening across Africa.

The Nigerian mega-city of Lagos announced it would shut its schools while Burkina Faso confirmed the first death in sub-Saharan Africa.

Russia reported its first death and even the Pacific nation of Fiji said it had its first case.

Countries are taking increasingly drastic steps to stem infections, with Australia and New Zealand banning non-residents from arriving.

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