Friday 20 March 2020 1:49 AM UTC
LONDON March 20: Italy has become the country with the most coronavirus-related deaths, surpassing China by registering 3,405 dead, while, Iran, another badly-hit country, said that one citizen died every 10 minutes due to the virus.
Italy reached the gruesome milestone on the same day the epicentre of the pandemic, Wuhan, China, recorded no new infections. Overall, China on Thursday counted 3,249 dead, 156 fewer than Italy, according to the Johns Hopkins University virus map.
Both Italy’s toll and its new infections shot up again on Thursday, adding 427 more dead and 5,322 more infections. Overall, Italy has recorded 41,035 infections, more than half of the world’s positive cases.
A worker disinfects the street to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Barcelona, Spain. AP
AP reported that health authorities have cited a variety of reasons for Italy’s high toll, key among them its large population of elderly people, who are particularly susceptible to serious complications from the virus, though severe cases have also been seen in younger patients.
Italy has the world’s second-oldest population, and the vast majority of its dead — 87 percent — were over 70.
Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, a virologist at Germany’s Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, said that Italy’s high death rate could be explained in part by the almost total breakdown of the health system in some areas.
“That’s what happens when the health system collapses,” he said.
Italy’s health care system has been overwhelmed by the virus, and on Thursday a visiting Chinese Red Cross team criticised the failure of Italians to fully quarantine and take the national lockdown seriously.
On a visit to the northern city of Milan, the head of a Chinese Red Cross delegation advising Italy said he was shocked to see so many people walking around, using public transportation and eating out and partying in hotels.
Sun Shuopeng of the Chinese Red Cross said Wuhan saw infections peak only after a month of a strictly enforced lockdown.
“Right now we need to stop all economic activity and we need to stop the mobility of people,” he said, adding, “All people should be staying at home in quarantine.”
Aside from the elderly and the sick, most people have mild or moderate symptoms, like a fever or cough, and most recover in a matter of weeks.
Iran health ministry says one citizen dies every 10 minutes.
Iranian health ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour said on Thursday that an Iranian dies due to the novel coronavirus every 10 minutes. Every hour, at least 50 Iranian are infected, he added in a tweet.
Iran confirmed 1,046 cases of coronavirus bringing the total to 18,407.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei planned to pardon 10,000 more prisoners — including an unknown number of political detainees — to combat the virus.
The country, where more than 1,100 people have already died, previously freed 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave.
US economy slows
The damage to the US’ economy kept piling up on Thursday, with unemployment claims surging, while the virus appeared to be opening an alarming new front in Africa, where, in less than three weeks it has spread to 35 countries.
The worldwide toll crept toward 10,000 as the total number of infections topped 2,20,000, including nearly 85,000 people who have recovered. The epidemic has also now reached at least one European head of state, 62-year-old Prince Albert II of the tiny principality of Monaco.
Johns Hopkins University, which has been tallying the virus’ spread around the world, said the US had more than 10,700 cases.
In the US, Congress rushed to pass a $1 trillion emergency package to shore up the sinking economy and help households pull through the crisis, with the first of two possible rounds of relief checks consisting of payments of $1,000 per adult and $500 for each child.
The American toll rose to 160, primarily elderly people.
French prime minister Edouard Philippe pleaded with people to keep their distance from one another to avoid spreading the virus, even as the crisis pushed them to seek comfort.
“When you love someone, you should avoid taking them in your arms,” he said in the Parliament. “It’s counterintuitive, and it’s painful. The psychological consequences, the way we are living, are very disturbing — but it’s what we must do.”
Spain has been the hardest-hit European country after Italy, and in Madrid, a four-star hotel began operating as a makeshift hospital for coronavirus patients.
The director of the group that runs the Ayre GH Colon hotel tweeted: “365 rooms more to help win the war.” The Madrid Hotel Business Association said it has placed 40 hotels with room for 9,000 people at the service of the Madrid region, which has near half of Spain’s 17,000 or so cases.
In London, home to almost 9 million, the government urged people to stay off public transportation as authorities considered imposing tougher travel restrictions.
The British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s reserved the first hour of shopping for vulnerable customers, one of many such efforts around the world.
Jim Gibson, 72, of London, said he found most of his groceries there in a “relatively trauma-free” experience. But he fretted that he hadn’t been able to get the medicine he needed for his wife and himself, and expressed concerns that Britain’s government had been too slow in ramping up testing.
“You can’t go on ignoring World Health Organisation guidelines — if they’re wrong, who the hell is right?” he said. “Let’s have no shilly-shallying.”
The British government, which was slow to react to the virus, has shifted gears and is now drawing up legislation giving itself new powers to detain people and restrict gatherings. The bill is expected to be approved by Parliament next week.
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