Coronavirus: Nations forced into lockdown as death toll crosses 7,000

Coronavirus: Nations forced into lockdown as death toll crosses 7,000
Photo: Reuters

Just over a month after Chinese authorities put in place stringent measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, the number of cases has dropped from a daily deluge of well over 1,000 cases to 21 on Tuesday. Of the 21, twenty were imported cases – people brought back to China after having contracted the virus elsewhere. Only one new domestic coronavirus infection was confirmed, leading many to believe that the end may be in sight.

However, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases surged outside of China's borders with major outbreaks being reported from Italy, Iran and South Korea.

The number of confirmed cases in Europe eclipsed those of China – believed to be from where the coronavirus first emerged (from a wet market in Wuhan in China's Hubei province) – becoming the new epicentre of COVID-19, now labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Italy, the worst-hit country in Europe, reported 368 coronavirus deaths on Monday – the highest ever spike reported in a day – taking its toll to well over 2,000. Nearly 30,000 cases have been reported here.

With the virus spreading rapidly in Europe, France joined Italy and Spain in imposing restrictions rarely seen outside wartime -- while dozens of countries have closed borders, ordered curfews and banned most public events.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the European Union's external borders would close for 30 days starting Tuesday, as the number of deaths worldwide passed 7,000. More than 175,530 cases have been recorded in 145 countries.

The EU will also hold a summit on Tuesday, set to discuss the 27-nation bloc's next response to the virus.

Across the Atlantic, where similar extreme measures are multiplying, Trump said he was asking Americans to restrict gatherings to groups of fewer than 10 people -- as New York and the capital, Washington stood largely deserted.

The US leader, who has struggled to convince he is taking the full measure of the crisis, told Americans to be prepared for a months-long struggle against the pandemic.

"If we do a really good job... people are talking about July, August," he told reporters at a now-daily briefing of the White House task force on the pandemic, saying he might ask the military to help build temporary hospitals to tackle rising numbers of sick.

He also acknowledged the United States "may be" heading into a recession due to the virus.

On Monday, the leaders of the G7 industrial powerhouses had pledged to join forces to halt the economic freefall in the wake of the virus outbreak, calling it "a human tragedy." 

"The COVID-19 pandemic is a human tragedy and a global health crisis, which also poses major risks for the world economy," a joint statement from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States said.

"We resolve to coordinate measures and do whatever it takes, using all policy tools, to achieve strong growth in the G7 economies and to safeguard against downside risks."

The head of the World Health Organization called for every suspected coronavirus case to be tested, something which would send the known tally of the sick skyrocketing.

"You cannot fight a fire while blindfolded," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists. "Test, test, test. Test every suspected case." Tedros said more cases and deaths have now been reported in the rest of the world than in China, where COVID-19 first emerged in December before crisscrossing the globe.

India reported its third coronavirus casualty on Tuesday with the death of a 64-year-old man who had recently returned from Dubai. There are 126 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country and it includes the Delhi woman and the 76-year-old Karnataka man who had succumbed to the virus besides 17 foreign nationals.

The Centre government on Monday ordered a near shutdown with the closure of educational institutions, shopping malls, theatres and gyms to contain the spread of the virus. New travel curbs were also issued by the government prohibiting the entry of passengers from EU countries, Turkey, and the UK from March 18. They will remain in force until March 3.

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