Global lockdown tightens as coronavirus death toll mounts

2020-03-31 09:22
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to members of the press after the arrival of the USNS Comfort hospital to Pier 90 on the Hudson River in New York City.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to members of the press after the arrival of the USNS Comfort hospital to Pier 90 on the Hudson River in New York City. (File, AFP)

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Paris – Lockdowns aimed at halting the march of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic have extended worldwide as the US outbreak continued to accelerate with the death toll there passing 3 000.

Despite slivers of hope in stricken Italy, tough measures that have confined two-fifths of the globe's population to their homes are being broadened.

Moscow and Lagos joined the roll call of cities around the world with empty streets, while Virginia and Maryland became the latest US states to announce stay-at-home orders, followed quickly by Washington DC.

FOLLOW LIVE | Chaos erupts at homeless shelter over food shortages, cops face serious charges amid lockdown

A US military medical ship steamed into New York, where it will relieve pressure on the city's badly stretched health system. A field hospital set up in Central Park was due to go online later on Tuesday.

The scale and speed of the US pandemic continued to expand, with the death toll topping 3 000 out of 163 000 known infections – the highest case count for any single country.

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President Donald Trump sought to reassure Americans that authorities were ramping up distribution of desperately needed equipment like ventilators and personal protective gear.

Economic and social shockwaves

But he also offered a stark warning, saying "challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days" as he acknowledged a potential nationwide stay-at-home order.

"We're sort of putting it all on the line," Trump said, likening the efforts against coronavirus to a "war".

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases around the world rose above 784 000, with 413 000 of those in Europe, which also has the lion's share of the deaths, according to an AFP tally.

READ | Italy sees signs of slowing contagion despite heavy toll

World leaders – several of whom have been stricken or forced into isolation – are still grappling for ways to deal with a crisis that is generating economic and social shockwaves unseen since World War II.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed "closer cooperation" and addressed plunging oil prices in a Monday call, the Kremlin said.

Putin's government was getting to grips with its own outbreak, with the Russian strongman urging residents of Moscow to respect a lockdown that has closed all non-essential shops, and left Red Square deserted.

Anna, a 36-year-old web designer, said the lockdown would be hard for her and her five-year-old daughter. "But I don't want Arina to get sick," she told AFP on her way to buy bread. "So of course we will observe the quarantine."

'Work continues'

After weeks of a national lockdown in Italy, signs were emerging that drastic action could be slowing the spread of the disease.

Even though the country's death toll grew by 812 in 24 hours to 11 591, the number of infections climbed just 4.1%.

"The data are better but our work continues," said Giulio Gallera, the chief medical officer of Lombardy, Italy's worst-hit region.

READ | New York welcomes hospital ship as coronavirus accelerates

Spain announced another 812 virus deaths in 24 hours, taking it past China, where the disease first emerged in December.

Even with the US health system stretched, Trump said he was ordering some excess medical equipment be sent to Italy, France and Spain.

'Nothing to eat'

The lockdowns are causing hardship across the world, but particularly in impoverished cities in Africa and Asia.

Africa's biggest city, Lagos, joined the global stay-at-home from Monday, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordering a two-week lockdown for its 20 million people. The measures also apply to the capital Abuja.

"Two weeks is too long. I don't know how we will cope," said student Abdul Rahim, 25, as he helped his sister sell food from a market stall.

Impoverished Zimbabwe also began enforcing a three-week lockdown.

READ | Red alert: Moscow begins coronavirus lockdown as Russia regions prepare for confinement

"They need to be fed, but there is nothing to eat," vegetable vendor Irene Ruwisi said in the township of Mbare, pointing at her four grandchildren. "How do they expect us to survive?"

The shutdown has already put millions out of work and forced governments to rush through huge stimulus plans.

Experts in Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, said the virus would shrink output there this year by up to 5.4%.

The World Bank warned the economic fallout from the pandemic could cause Chinese growth to shudder to a halt, and thrust millions of East Asians into poverty.

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