ROME / NEW YORK: Italy reported on Thursday 6,153 new coronavirus infections, pushing the global total over half a million, based on a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Italy now has 80,539 cases, almost as many as China. Italy’s Civil Protection Agency reported 662 deaths on Thursday, bringing the country’s death toll to 8,165, which is the highest in the world.

The United States was quickly becoming a new epicentre of the global pandemic as new infections soared and unemployment claims skyrocketed to a historic high.

Hospitals in the US have increasingly reported being overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases and 40 per cent of Americans are under lockdown orders, although a buoyant Wall Street recouped more of this month’s massive losses as Congress moved forward on a $2 trillion rescue package.

Over 8,000 die in Italy; unemployment claims jump to a historic high in US

New research showed Covid-19 could lead to more than 80,000 deaths in the US and overwhelm hospital capacity nationally as soon as early April even if social distancing measures are respected. The US death toll for the pandemic has already soared past 1,000, with 68,000 confirmed infections. Forecasters at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine analysed the latest Covid-19 data at a local, national and international level.

These include hospitalisation and mortality rates, as well as patient date in terms of age, gender and pre-existing health problems. Specifically, they looked at the time lag between the first fatal cases and public interventions such as shuttering schools and businesses.

They then looked at each American state’s ICU bed and ventilator capacity. The analysis warned that based on current trends, demand for both would far exceed capacity for Covid-19 patients as early as the second week of April. During the epidemic peak — also set for some point in April — as many as 2,300 patients could die every day, according to the IHME models. This was the case even if the population adhered to strict social distancing measures.

More than 100 people died in the past day in virus hotbed New York, where a long line of people, most in masks and standing three feet apart, snaked outside the Elmhurst hospital in Jackson Heights under police watch as they waited to be tested.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said the top priority was to “flatten the curve” of new cases as the New York City area tries to more than double its available number of hospital beds to 140,000.

“This is all about getting that curve down and not overwhelming the hospital system,” Cuomo told reporters. “Almost any scenario that is realistic will overwhelm the capacity of the current health care system,” he warned.

Unemployment skyrockets

The pandemic has already, and rapidly, been catastrophic to the world’s largest economy, which looks to be heading into a recession.

The Labour Department reported that 3.3 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, by far the highest number ever recorded.

Job losses have been widespread across sectors including food services, accommodation, entertainment and transportation, according to the normally routine report.

The US Congress, which is usually deeply polarised, has come together in the face of the crisis after negotiations between President Donald Trump’s Republicans and rival Democrats.

The Senate overnight unanimously passed a $2 trillion package — the largest stimulus in US history, which will provide cash payouts that average $3,400 for an average family of four.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020