Nearly 1bn confined to homes as death toll tops 12,000

Published March 22, 2020
A man crosses a nearly empty State Street in Chicago, Illinois, on March 21.  — AP
A man crosses a nearly empty State Street in Chicago, Illinois, on March 21. — AP

• Italy reports 793 new deaths, taking its tally to 4,825
• About 30 per cent of Americans in virtual lockdown
• Over 120 people die in Iran

NEW YORK: Almost one billion people were confined to their homes worldwide on Saturday as the global coronavirus death toll shot past 12,000 and US states rolled out stay-at-home measures already imposed across swathes of Europe.

The fast-spreading pandemic has completely upended lives across the planet, restricting movement, shutting schools and forcing millions to work from home.

Around 30 per cent of Americans were adjusting to life in various phases of virtual lockdown — including in three of their biggest cities of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — and more states were expected to ramp up restrictions.

Deaths from the pandemic topped 12,000 across the globe on Saturday, according to a tally compiled from official figures. A total of 12,592 people died, most of them in Europe (7,199) and Asia (3,459).

With 4,825 deaths, Italy has a higher toll than even China (3,255) where the outbreak began late last year.

In Iran, which reported 123 deaths, both supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani promised the country would overcome the outbreak — but still refused to join the rest of the world in imposing heavy restrictions. The country has more than 1,500 deaths and some 20,000 infections.

An estimated 900 million people are now confined to their homes in 35 countries around the world — including 600m hemmed in by obligatory government lockdown orders — according to a tally.

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

China on Saturday reported no new local infections for a third straight day, and the WHO said the central city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged late last year, offered a glimmer of “hope for the rest of the world”.

But there are growing concerns of a new wave of “imported” infections in the region, with Hong Kong reporting 48 suspected cases on Friday — its biggest daily jump since the crisis began. Many of them have a recent history of travel to or from Europe.

Italy on Saturday reported 793 new coronavirus deaths, a one-day record that saw its toll shoot up to 4,825 — 38.3 per cent of the world’s total. The number of Covid-19 infections rose by 6,557 to 53,578, another record.

Italy has reported 1,420 deaths since Friday, a grim figure that suggests the pandemic is breaking through the government’s various containment and social distancing measures.

France, Italy, Spain and other Euro­pean countries have ordered people to stay at home, threatening fines in some cases, while Bavaria became the first region in Germany to order a lockdown.

‘Months not weeks’

With virus fears gripping the United States, New Jersey was expected to follow several other states, including California, New York and Illinois, in telling residents to stay at home.

The orders to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary affect around 100m Americans — or about 30 per cent of the population of 330m.

Governor Andrew Cuomo warned New Yorkers on Saturday that the disruption is likely to last for months. “I don’t believe it’s going to be a matter of weeks,” he said.

President Donald Trump applauded the New York and California decisions, but insisted on Friday that he did not think a nationwide lockdown was needed.

China’s help

The strict confinement measures follow the template set by China, as a lockdown imposed in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, appeared to have paid off.

In a sign of the shifting centre of the crisis, China has sent medical supplies to European nations struggling to cope with the pandemic, including Greece, which received 500,000 medical masks from Beijing on Saturday.

The Democratic Republic of Congo reported its first death on Saturday, while Burkina Faso reported two new deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities in sub-Saharan Africa to five.

Cases stand at more than 1,000 across Africa, where healthcare systems are fragile and social distancing is not possible in many crowded cities.

In Latin America, Bolivia ordered citizens to stay at home from Sunday, and Colombia said it would begin mandatory isolation from Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2020

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