Coronavirus: Spain extends state of emergency as death toll passes China
Spain extended its state of emergency for two more weeks to allow the government to extend stringent lockdown measures in a desperate attempt to contain the coronavirus.
Spain reported 738 new deaths in one day on Wednesday while Italy announced 683. The two countries have the highest fatality rate in the global pandemic.
Spain has now surpassed China, where the pandemic began, in the overall number of COVID-19 deaths.
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.”
India on Tuesday started implementing the world’s biggest lockdown of 1.3 billion people, following the example of a number of countries, especially in Europe, which remains the global coronavirus hotspot.
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.
France announced a total of 25,233 confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as its death toll reached 1,331, with 231 new deaths in one day.
The country has introduced legislation to implement a “war economy” amid the pandemic and as the country has been under lockdown for a week.
The UK on Wednesday confirmed the death of the deputy to the British ambassador to Hungary, Steven Dick, 37, of COVID-19.
British PM Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that over 400,000 people answered a call to volunteer for the NHS health service in one day.
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.”
US has third most cases in world, death toll tops 1,000
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 it surpassed China, where the outbreak began.
On Wednesday morning Spain had registered 3,434 dead, taking over the death toll in China which stands at 3,285. Italy, the world’s worst affected country, has an official death toll of 6,820.
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 69,000 infections and 6,800 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.
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.
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.