Long war ahead as tally of cases surpasses 600,000

Updated March 29, 2020

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ALBINO (Italy): Medical personnel clap on Saturday as they stand near the windows of Honegger Nursing Home, where 35 people have died so far from coronavirus. Italy recorded a shocking spike in deaths on Friday. The infection rate, however, continued its downward trend.—AFP
ALBINO (Italy): Medical personnel clap on Saturday as they stand near the windows of Honegger Nursing Home, where 35 people have died so far from coronavirus. Italy recorded a shocking spike in deaths on Friday. The infection rate, however, continued its downward trend.—AFP

BERLIN: The number of confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide topped 600,000 on Saturday as new cases stacked up quickly in Europe and the United States and officials dug in for a long fight against the pandemic.

The latest landmark came only two days after the world passed half a million infections, according to a tally by John Hopkins University, showing that much work remains to be done to slow the spread of the virus. It showed more than 607,000 cases and over 28,000 deaths.

While the US now leads the world in reported infections with more than 104,000 cases five countries exceed its roughly 1,700 deaths: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France.

“We cannot completely prevent infections at this stage, but we can and must in the immediate future achieve fewer new infections per day, a slower spread,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in quarantine at home after her doctor tested positive for the virus, told her compatriots in an audio message. “That will decide whether our health system can stand up to the virus.”

The virus already has put health systems in Italy, Spain and France under extreme strain. Lockdowns of varying severity have been introduced across Europe, nearly emptying streets in normally bustling cities, including Paris where drone photos showed the city’s landmarks eerily deserted.

Stress caused by isolation is said to be increasing risk of domestic, sexual violence

Spain, where stay-at-home restrictions have been in place for nearly two weeks, reported 832 more deaths on Saturday, its highest daily count yet, bringing its total to 5,690. Another 8,000 confirmed infections pushed that count above 72,000.

Doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers in its worst-hit regions are working nonstop and falling ill at an alarming rate. More than 9,000 health workers in the country have been infected.

“We are completely overwhelmed,” said paramedic Pablo Rojo at Barcelona’s Dos de Maig hospital. “Seven or eight (patients transported today) and all with Covid-19. ... And the average age is decreasing. Theyre not 80 years old anymore, they are now 30 and 40 years old. Sometimes you become a bit paranoid, you don’t know any more when you pick up the phone if you have cleaned your hands, if youve sanitised them or not. You touch your face with your hands,” Rojo said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and lead to death.

More than 130,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins. The effects of the outbreak have been felt by the powerful and the poor alike.

In parts of Africa, virus prevention measures took a violent turn as countries imposed lockdowns and curfews or sealed off major cities, with police in Kenya firing tear gas and officers elsewhere captured on video hitting people with batons.

New York remained the worst-hit US city, but Americans braced for worsening conditions elsewhere, with worrisome numbers being reported in New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit.

New Orleans sprawling Ernest N. Morial Convention Centre is being converted into a massive hospital.

In New York state, where there are more than 44,000 cases, the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 passed 6,000 on Friday, double what it had been three days earlier.

In India, the government said on Saturday it was planning to turn some railway coaches into isolation wards for patients with coronavirus, as authorities scramble to prepare the country’s health infrastructure for an expected surge in cases.

Domestic violence

With families across Europe confined to their homes to curb the spread of the coronavirus, fears are rising of a surge in domestic violence.

From Berlin to Paris, Madrid, Rome and Bratislava, associations that help victims of domestic violence have sounded the alarm after Europe overtook China to become the epicentre of the pandemic.

“For many people, their home is already not a safe place,” says the German federal association of women’s counselling centres and helplines (BFF).

But the stress caused by social isolation is exacerbating tensions and increasing “the risk of domestic and sexual violence against women and children”, the association warns.

And the risks are not limited to homes where violence was already a problem before.

On top of the stress caused by confinement, fears around job security and financial difficulties are also increasing the likelihood of conflicts.

“It’s putting a lot of pressure on households,” says Florence Claudepierre, head of the FCPE parents’ federation in the Upper Rhine, a region hit hard by the pandemic in France.

She said she is hearing stories of “parents who are cracking, who can’t carry on” in families that have not previously had any problems.

In China, the women’s rights organisation Weiping has reported a threefold increase in reports of violence against women.

In Spain, a 35-year-old mother of two was murdered by her partner last week.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2020