NANCY (France): Nurses take care of four people infected with novel coronavirus as a high-speed train transfers 24 patients from a hard-hit eastern region to western France on Sunday.—AFP
NANCY (France): Nurses take care of four people infected with novel coronavirus as a high-speed train transfers 24 patients from a hard-hit eastern region to western France on Sunday.—AFP

• Minister in Germany commits suicide over worries of economic fallout
• South Asia’s infections total tops 2,800

MADRID: Spain broke another national record of daily coronavirus deaths on Sunday as more than 40 per cent of the world’s population was asked to stay home in hopes of halting the deadly march of a disease that has claimed more than 32,000 lives worldwide.

A deluge of patients are overwhelming hospitals in Europe and the United States, now the focal points of a pandemic that is upending the global economy in unprecedented ways.

Thomas Schaefer, the finance minister of Germany’s Hesse state, committed suicide, apparently after becoming “deeply worried” over how to cope with the economic fallout from the coronavirus, state premier Volker Bouffier said. A visibly shaken Bouffier recalled that Schaefer, who was Hesse’s finance chief for 10 years, had been working “day and night” to help companies and workers deal with the economic impact of the pandemic.

Schaefer, 54, was found dead near a railway track on Saturday. The Wiesbaden prosecution’s office said they believe he died by suicide.

In the US, an about-face by President Donald Trump on quarantining New York captured the panic and confusion unfurling across many parts of the world where measures to contain the pandemic change on a daily basis.

As of Sunday, more than 3.38 billion people were asked or ordered to follow confinement measures, as the virus infects every sphere of life, wiping out millions of jobs, postponing political elections and pressing pause on the sporting scene.

Worst-hit Italy and Spain, which together account for more than half of the world’s deaths, are clinging to hope that they are nearing the peak of the crisis.

But even as the growth rate of deaths slows, Madrid announced a rise in its 24-hour toll for a third consecutive day on Sunday, with 838 fatalities. The pandemic has spurred a worldwide scramble for medical gear as doctors and nurses in some of the world’s wealthiest cities struggle to dole out limited stocks of face masks and life-saving respirators.

From snorkel masks to 3D-printed face shields, creative solutions have popped up around the globe in efforts to plug the gap as factories rush to keep up with international demand.

But frontline medical staff don’t have time to spare.

“I have nothing for my head, nothing for my shoes,” said Diana Torres, who works in a rehabilitation centre in New York city.

“Everybody is scared,” she said, explaining how it took significant effort to acquire one face shield, one N-95 respirator mask and one gown — all of which she said she would have to reuse.

Some leaders warned the worst is yet to come as governments extend containment measures and roll out rescue packages aimed at staunching the bloodletting of their economies.

The US is now home to the highest number of confirmed infections globally with more than 124,000 cases, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, which put worldwide deaths at 32,137.

Across the Atlantic, the death toll passed 1,200 in the UK as Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who tested positive for the virus last week — warned that dark days were on the horizon.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also warned that a “quick return to normal life” was unlikely, despite the economic hardship of the shutdown in place since March 12.

On the Italian island of Sicily, police with batons and guns moved to protect supermarkets after reports of looting by locals who could no longer afford food.

In hard-hit Iran, President Hassan Rouhani also said the country must prepare to adjust to “the new way of life” for a long time, after 123 more deaths were recorded.

More than 667,090 cases have been officially declared around the world since the outbreak began late last year.

As health facilities in even rich countries buckle under the pressure, aid groups warn the toll could be in the millions in low-income countries and war zones such as Syria and Yemen, where healthcare systems are in tatters.

Three billion people around the world lack access to running water and soap, which are the most basic weapons of protection against the virus, UN experts warn.

According to figures released by the governments, following is the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia’s eight countries:

Pakistan has registered 1,589 cases, including 16 deaths, India has counted 979 cases, with 25 deaths, Sri Lanka (115 cases, including one death), Afghanistan (128 cases, with 3 deaths), Bangladesh (48 cases, including five deaths), Maldives (28 cases), Nepal (five cases) and Bhutan has registered four cases and no deaths.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2020