The global coronavirus death toll surged past 30,000 over the weekend as Europe and the United States endured their darkest days of the crisis.
A back-flip from US president Donald Trump on quarantining New York highlighted the panic and confusion across many parts of the world in trying to contain the pandemic, which has seen more than a third of humanity placed under unprecedented lockdowns.
More than 30,800 deaths had been reported worldwide by Sunday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, as the virus continued to leave a devastating imprint on nearly every aspect of society: wiping out millions of jobs, overwhelming healthcare services and draining national treasuries.
Europe alone accounted for more than 20,000 fatalities, where hardest-hit Italy and Spain each reported more than 800 dead in one day.
Pablo Rodriguez, a radiologist at a Madrid hospital, described the influx of patients as ‘a total tsunami’.
‘It’s like going to the front line in a war,’ he said.
Officials in some countries have warned that the worst is yet to come.
But in the Chinese city of Wuhan where the virus first struck late last year, officials took tentative steps back towards normality, partially reopening it after more than two months of near-total isolation for its 11 million residents.
Trump decided late Saturday against imposing a broad lockdown on New York and its neighbours after a strong pushback from local political leaders and warnings of the panic it could spark.
Health officials say they fear New York may follow the deadly path charted by Italy, with health professionals exhausted and hospitals desperately short of protective equipment and ventilators.
‘It’s abysmal,’ said Andrew, a psychiatry resident in a New York hospital.
He is now quarantined at home with a likely case of the virus himself.
‘There’s not enough money, there aren’t enough tests, there’s not enough personal protective equipment for people who are dealing with this,’ he said in an interview punctuated by coughs.
The United States now has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections globally with more than 124,000 cases, according to the Johns Hopkins tally.
European nations have been harder hit than the US on a per capita basis with over 20,000 deaths — around half in worst-hit Italy.
Spain reported a national daily record of 838 coronavirus deaths on Sunday in a fresh warning to the world that long-term lockdowns may be needed to halt the deadly march of a disease that has claimed more than 31,000 lives.
Russia said it would close its borders on Monday, despite reporting relatively low levels of the virus.
More than 664,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been officially recorded around the world since the outbreak began late last year, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.
In France, which has seen close to 2,000 deaths, prime minister Edouard Philippe warned the ‘battle’ was just beginning. Elsewhere, Iran announced 139 more deaths.
The British government admitted on Sunday that the coronavirus lockdown could last a ‘significant’ time as a leading expert warned it could be in place until June.
‘I can’t make an accurate prediction but everyone I think does have to prepare for a significant period when these measures are still in place,’ cabinet minister Michael Gove told the BBC.
Britons have been told to stay inside wherever possible to limit the spread of COVID-19, joining millions of people on lockdown worldwide.
The measure was introduced amid warnings that infection rates were spiralling, and new figures on Sunday revealed that 1,228 people with coronavirus have now died in Britain.
This is an increase of 209 on the day before. A total of 127,737 have been tested so far, of whom 19,522 people were found to have coronavirus.
Prime minister Boris Johnson initially said the shutdown would be for three weeks.
India’s prime minister Narendra Modi apologised to citizens for the sweeping 21-day lockdown that has brought the country of 1.3 billion people to a halt, leaving many migrant workers jobless and penniless.
‘I believe that you will forgive me... I had to take some decisions which have inconvenienced you in various ways, especially my poor brothers and sisters,’ he said Sunday in a weekly radio address, arguing there was ‘no other way’ to fight the virus.
Meanwhile Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed to rural migrants not to go home after a massive exodus began from cities, with many workers making the long journeys on foot.
The Philippines announced 343 new cases of the virus, its biggest one-day increase so far as the country ramps up testing capacity.
The number brings total cases in the Philippines to 1,418, the nation’s health department said, with 71 deaths including three new fatalities.
Sri Lanka said it was extending a ban on all arriving airline passengers by a further week, until April 7. The main airport, however, remains open for people leaving the country. The island nation reported its first virus death on Saturday night.
Australia has recorded almost 4,000 cases of COVID-19, with the death toll reaching 16 on Sunday. Meanwhile New Zealand reported its first novel coronavirus death.
Singapore, which has imposed tough measures to slow the spread of the virus — including the threat of six months in jail for people who intentionally stand close to someone else — reported its third COVID-19 death on Sunday.
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