Coronavirus deaths top 20,000 with biggest chunk in Europe, US cases surge

Coronavirus deaths top 20,000 with biggest chunk in Europe, US cases surge
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Paris: The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 20,000 people worldwide, most of them in Europe, according to an AFP tally at 1700 GMT (2230 IST) Wednesday using official figures.

A total of 20,334 deaths were reported, of which 13,581 were in Europe.

With 7,503 deaths, Italy is the most affected country ahead of Spain with 3,434 and China with 3,281, the country where the initial outbreak occurred.

More than three billion people have been asked to stay at home in almost 70 countries and territories as governments battle the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, according to an AFP tally.

Most of the countries concerned, including Argentina, Britain, France, India and Italy as well as many US states, have imposed mandatory lockdown measures. Others have introduced curfews, quarantines and other social distancing recommendations.

In US, more than 53,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that is particularly perilous to the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions, with at least 827 deaths (based on a tracker run by Johns Hopkins University). World Health Organization officials have said the United States could become the global epicentre of the pandemic.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said more than 30,800 people had tested positive for the virus in his state, the epicenter of the US outbreak, and more than 17,800 in New York City alone. The state has reported 285 deaths and roughly half the country's reported infections.

Panama was on Wednesday the latest to join the list of countries opting for a lockdown. South Africa, meanwhile, will begin a 21-day lockdown from Thursday.

In most countries it is still possible to go out to work, buy provisions and seek medical attention.

At least seven countries or territories, covering 416 million people, and including Iran, Germany and Canada, however have called on their population to stay at home while not making home confinement mandatory.

Russia was the latest to make such recommendations with President Vladimir Putin declaring next week a non-working week.

At least 18 countries or territories, home to more than 300 million people, including Chile, Egypt, Ivory Coast and Serbia have put in place curfews.

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The most severe curfew has been introduced in Ecuador where people must remain at home between 5 am and 2pm daily.

At least five countries have quarantined large cities with people prevented from entering and leaving.

Cities affected include Kinshasa, Riyadh and Baku, the capitals of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan respectively.

IMF, World Bank call for suspending debt payments by poorest nations

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank on Wednesday called for governments to put a hold on debt payments from the world's poorest nations so they can battle the coronavirus pandemic.

"The World Bank Group and the IMF believe it is imperative at this moment to provide a global sense of relief for developing countries as well as a strong signal to financial markets," the Washington-based development lenders said in a joint statement.

The move aims to help countries that are home to two-thirds of the world's population living in extreme poverty -- largely in sub-Saharan Africa -- and qualify for the most generous, low-cost loans from the International Development Association (IDA) financed by wealthier nations.

"The coronavirus outbreak is likely to have severe economic and social consequences for IDA countries" which will face "immediate liquidity needs to tackle challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak," the organization said.

The IMF and World Bank called on the Group of 20 nations to support the initiative for "all official bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments from IDA countries that request forbearance."

In addition, the institutions called for an analysis of the financing needs these countries will face, and whether their total debt load is sustainable.

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