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COVID-19: Italy's death toll passes 10,000 as day-to-day fatality rate slows down slightly

COVID-19: Italy's death toll passes 10,000 as day-to-day fatality rate slows down slightly
Copyright  Claudio Furlan/LaPresse/AP
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Over 10,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Italy, the country reported on Saturday, recording 889 new deaths in one day.

With 10,023 deaths, Italy remains the hardest-hit country in the world amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A total of 92,472 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in Italy. The spread of the pandemic has slowed down in the last few days, from a 8,3% increase on Thursday to 7,4% on Friday and 6,9% on Saturday.

France reported 319 new deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic on Saturday, taking to 2,314 its total death toll. There are 4,273 people in intensive care in France due to the virus, authorities said.

The French PM Edouard Philippe warned on Saturday that "the first 15 days of April will be difficult, even more difficult than the 15 past ones", as France prepares for a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases according to projections.

"The fight has only begun", Philippe said. The French health minister Olivier Véran added that the country wants to increase its intensive care bed capacity from 5,000 currently to 14,000.

The UK announced 260 new deaths on Saturday, marking a big jump in its total death toll to 1,019, up from 759 the previous day. The country counted 17,089 confirmed cases of coronavirus on Saturday.

Spanish authorities announced on Saturday that a record 832 people had succumbed from COVID-19 since yesterday, bringing the country's total death toll to 5,690.

Spain will stop all its "non-essential" economic activity for two weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the Spanish Prime minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday. This measure has also been introduced in Italy to fight the virus.

Across Europe, countries have reinforced measures to contain the spread of the deadly disease with Hungary and Ireland both introducing 15-day lockdown on Friday.

France and Belgium, already nearly two weeks into their own lockdowns, both extended their self-isolation policies by another two weeks on Friday, a day after Spain had announced its own extension.

Russia announced on Saturday it would completely close its borders due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In the UK, NHS England announced on Saturday that two new hospitals would be created in the coming days.

These two facilities in Birmingham and Manchester — both to be housed in conference centres —will each provide an initial 500 beds that could then be expanded by up to 2,000 beds.

The NHS's announcement came just a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Minister Matt Hancock both revealed that they had tested positive for the disease.

Meanwhile, the US became the first country in the world to report more than 100,000 confirmed cases on Friday, according to a count kept by the John Hopkins University — 18,000 of which were reported on Friday alone.

The US also announced that 345 people had died from the novel coronavirus in 24 hours — a record for the country — with a total death toll of 1,475.

On Saturday, the New York State governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the New York State primary for the US presidential election, planned for 28 April, would be postponed to 23 June due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In terms of fatalities, the US still remains far behind China (3,169) — where the virus originated — as well as Spain and Italy.

The global total of confirmed cases was pushed over 600,000 on Saturday.

A vaccine is still months away, says WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that the world must "stay calm", as COVID-19 coronavirus cases topped 560,000 worldwide.

"We must fight, unite, ignite", Dr. Ghebreyesus said. "Fight with every resource at our disposal. Unite because we are one humanity, we can only fight together. And ignite the industrial mind and innovation of G20 countries to produce and distribute the tools needed to save lives."

He said that a COVID-19 vaccine is "still 12 to 18 months away".

Earlier in the week, the UK confirmed the death of the deputy to the British ambassador to Hungary, Steven Dick, 37, of COVID-19.

A healthy 16-year-old girl died of coronavirus in France on Thursday.

The Moody's credit rating agency said it is forecasting an economic recession for all G20 countries in 2020, while United Nations director-general Antonio Guterres said coronavirus "threatens the whole of humanity."

Other major developments:

France organises its "war economy"

The French government published 25 decrees on Wednesday to implement new measures under the country's "state of health emergency", declared last week.

The measures include a €1 billion fund for small businesses and self-employed people, as well as financial aid for the travel sector, and systems put in place to pay salaries to the workers whose jobs have been stopped under the lockdown.

The French government has also published measures to temporarily adapt the French labour law to create a "real war economy", Philippe said: businesses will be temporarily allowed to make employees work longer hours, or work nights or Sundays as needed.

"We will face a long effort, together," the French PM Edouard Philippe told the parliament.

"The health crisis is here, but it will also become an economic and social crisis. We are only at the beginning."

Meanwhile over 225,000 people have been fined in France for violating lockdown rules, the French Interior minister said on Thursday.

Record number of Americans apply for unemployment benefits

More than 3.2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the country's labour department. That is more than four times the previous record which was 695,000 Americans in October of 1982, the department said.

The US now has the third most cases in the world with nearly 70,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The country of 327 million recorded more than 1,000 deaths according to two separate counts of the toll.

A World Health Organization spokesperson said on Tuesday that the United States had the "potential" to become the new epicentre of the pandemic, due to a "very large acceleration" in infections.

US President Trump meanwhile said he wanted to get the country "reopened" by Easter on April 12.

Russia grounds flights, delays constitutional changes

Russian government officials announced they would ground international flights from Friday except flights bringing Russians home from abroad.

Russia also delayed a vote on constitutional changes amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation on Wednesday and encouraged Russians to stay at home, saying that only essential businesses such as pharmacies, stores and banks would remain open.

The authorities reported 163 new cases of the virus in Russia bringing the total to over 600 nationwide.

The constitutional vote that he delayed included a change to allow Putin to seek another presidential term.

Spanish death tolls soars as Europe remains in the grip of COVID-19

Spain is now second only to Italy in worldwide deaths from COVID-19, after surpassing China, where the outbreak began, earlier this week.

The Chinese death toll stands at 3,285.

Hotels in Spain have been converted into makeshift hospitals and an ice rink in the capital Madrid is being used as a morgue, as the infections and deaths continue to shoot up. On Wednesday, as well as the rise in deaths, infections also rose 20% from a day earlier to 47,610.

Italy - the hardest-hit nation in the world - has more than 86,000 infections and 9,100 deaths. Authorities are investigating if a hotly contested Champions League match in Milan in February poured rocket fuel on the crisis that is overwhelming Italian hospitals. Italian doctors are being forced to choose who will receive desperately needed ventilators and who won't.

Both these countries, and others in Europe, are seeing their health care systems come under intense strain, with hospitals running short of critical equipment needed to treat patients and keep doctors and nurses safe. Doctors are dying in Italy and Spain says 14% of its infections are health care workers.

Finland, which has 880 confirmed cases of coronavirus and has reported three deaths, announced on Wednesday the lockdown of the capital Helsinki and its region, starting Friday until 19 April.

UN launches humanitarian response plan

The UN is launching a $2 billion (€1.85 billion) plan to develop a humanitarian response to COVID-19 in the poorest countries.

The plan was launched in tandem with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF to support vulnerable communities in the world.

The UN secretary-general appealed to governments to support the initiative financially.

"If we do not act decisively now, I fear that the virus will establish a foothold in the most fragile of countries, leaving the world more vulnerable as it continues to circle the planet," Antonio Guterres said.

"While COVID-19 is a threat to people everywhere, what's most worrying is the danger the virus poses to people already affected by crisis," said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, talking about those displaced by conflict and climate or those living in poverty.

Meanwhile, UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore spoke about how COVID-19 had upended the lives of children who cannot go to school.

"Children are the hidden victims of this pandemic," she said, pointing out that some children do not have basic hygiene services or access to online learning to continue their education.

Governments step in to rescue economies

The US has responded to the growing number of coronavirus cases there with the largest economic rescue in history. Politicians agreed a €1.85 trillion pandemic response package to help businesses, workers and the health care system. The move comes as the economy in the US moves towards a recession.

The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was "a wartime level of investment into our nation". The bill still needs to be signed off by President Donald Trump. The rescue package is larger than the 2008 bank bailout and 2009 recovery act.

The legislation surprisingly put Democrats and Republicans on the same side of the political field, with both Obama's Secretary of State John Kerry and President Donald Trump taking to twitter to denounce a congressman who said he would not vote for the bill.

A European stimulus of €750 billion was announced last week that will allow the European Central Bank to buy government and private company debt to help the economy during the outbreak.

Drastic action around the world

Case numbers in countries with fragile health care systems are rising, and governments are taking drastic action to avoid the sort of crises currently being experienced in western European countries and the United States.

Virus cases in South Africa rose to 709 as the country got ready to go on lockdown on Friday. New Zealand declared an emergency ahead of an unprecedented lockdown which begins on Wednesday.

And India announced a 21-day total lockdown in the country of 1.3 billion people - the most sweeping effort yet to stop the transmission of COVID-19.

"To save India and every Indian, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.

There are just over 500 cases of the virus in the country, according to a tally maintained by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

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