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March 20, 2020

Corona death toll crosses 9,000 worldwide

Top Story

March 20, 2020

PARIS/LONDON/TEHRAN: The number of novel coronavirus cases globally stood at 217,510 with 9,020 deaths, across 157 countries and territories at 1100 GMT Thursday, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.

Since 1900 GMT on Wednesday there were 236 new deaths reported and 8,015 new cases globally. The tallies take into account the fact that criteria for counting victims and coronavirus screening practices vary from country to country. China -- excluding Hong Kong and Macau -- where the outbreak emerged in late December, has to date declared 80,928 cases, including 3,245 deaths, with 69,601 people recovered. The country declared 34 new cases and eight new fatalities since Wednesday.

Outside China, there have been 5,775 deaths by 1000 GMT Thursday -- 228 new fatalities -- out of 136,590 cases, of which 7,981 were new.

The worst-hit nation after China is Italy with a total of 2,978 deaths (35,713 cases), Iran with 1,284 fatalities (17,361 cases), Spain with 598 deaths (13,716 cases) and France with 264 deaths (9,134 cases). Since 1700 GMT Wednesday, Pakistan, Russia, Costa Rica and Mexico confirmed their first deaths. Mauritius, Barbados, Zambia, Fiji, the Bahamas, El Salvador and Nicaragua all reported their first cases.

Meanwhile, East London & London Muslim Centre in its statement says, “In line with the most recent advice from the government, from medical professionals in our community, and after very careful consideration by our Imams in consultation with Islamic scholars and other mosques and centres, we have taken the difficult decision to suspend public access to the East London Mosque, including for all prayers and Jumma (Friday prayer). We will continue to broadcast the azan, insha’Allah.”

It further says, “We will keep the situation under constant review, and ensure our congregation is informed through our website and social media, insha’Allah. We are also putting measures in place so that our community can get in touch with the mosque, and we’re looking at ways the mosque can give support to the vulnerable in our community. May Allah help us all in this time of trial; we should turn to Him in increased devotion through prayer, dua and reading the Quran.”

Meanwhile, some 500 million people have been subject to lockdown measures around the world because of the coronavirus outbreak that started in China and has quickly ballooned globally, according to an AFP count.

From China to the Czech Republic to Venezuela, governments have told their citizens to stay indoors to try and slow the spread of the pandemic. Here are the populations affected.

The central Chinese province of Hubei and its capital Wuhan where the Covid-19 virus broke out late last year, have been cut off from the world since late January. Quarantine is still in force there, but restrictions on movement were eased on March 14 for the province´s more than 50 million inhabitants. At least eight other countries have followed the Chinese province in enforcing confinement: Italy since March 10, Spain from March 14, Lebanon on March 15, the Czech Republic on March 16, France, Israel and Venezuela on March 17 and Belgium on March 18.

That means 240 million people in these eight countries are obliged to stay at home.

In most of these places it is possible to leave the house to buy basic necessities, access health care or go to work if staying at home is not an option. Some countries have taken more targeted measures, including Bulgaria which has put the ski resort town of Bansko under quarantine.

Egypt has confined all employees in the Red Sea tourist area. Inhabitants of the Colombian capital Bogota are to go through a trial isolation exercise from March 20 to 23, which may pave the way for a full quarantine.

Britain, Germany and Iran -- have urged people to limit as much as possible their movements and contacts, without going as far as enforcing confinement.

These four countries are home to around 240 million people. These appeals from the authorities have however had limited effect.

At least six countries or territories have imposed curfews banning movements in the evening and overnight: Tunisia, Bolivia, Serbia, the US states of New Jersey and Puerto Rico, and the Philippines´ capital Manila. These territories hold more than 50 million inhabitants.

India banned incoming international flights on Thursday, restricted public gatherings and blocked roads to seal Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) after the insurgency-torn region reported its first coronavirus infection.

Elsewhere in densely populated South Asia, Sri Lanka postponed parliamentary elections as the coronavirus epidemic spread in an area that had been relatively unscathed compared to elsewhere in the world.

New cases in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are all accelerating, with the total across the region nearing 700. Six people have died.

In Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), claimed in whole but ruled in part by both India and Pakistan, dozens of people said they had been prevented from leaving their neighbourhoods by police and paramilitary units.

Srinagar’s senior superintendent of police, Haseeb Mughal, said that road blockades across the valley had been imposed to prevent the spread of the virus. “I had to take my mother to hospital in Srinagar but the police closed the road,” said Mohammed Ayub, from the nearby town of Budgam. “I am waiting here for the last two hours. I can’t even go home now as the road is blocked due to a traffic jam.”

An internet shutdown that began in August following sweeping constitutional changes in Kashmir has only just been eased.

Confirmed cases in Afghanistan remained static at 22 on Thursday, despite what experts say is a brewing crisis in the war-torn nation, especially in Herat province bordering Iran, one of the worst affected countries.

Meanwhile, Iran is to free "around 10,000 prisoners" in an amnesty marking the Persian New Year, Nowruz, today (Friday), including half of those serving time for security offences, the judiciary said.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei grants several mass amnesties a year marking the major Islamic and national holidays but this week´s early releases come as Iran battles one of the world´s worst Covid-19 outbreaks outside China.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili made no explicit reference to the coronavirus in an overnight statement carried by the judiciary´s Mizan Online website.

The latest amnesty aims to "reduce the number of prisoners in light of the sensitive situation in the country", Esmaili said. "Around half of those convicted of national security offences will benefit from this amnesty," Esamili added without giving a figure.

Previous amnesties have largely benefited common law prisoners so the judiciary´s decision on security prisoners was unusual.

Mizan Online underlined the "unprecedented nature" of this week´s early releases for prisoners serving sentences of less than five years.

Human rights group Amnesty International gave the amnesty a guarded welcome. "Amnesty International welcomes the release of anyone detained as a prisoner of conscience" and "is again calling on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience," it said.

Iran denies holding any political prisoners and frequently rejects what it sees as the West´s conflation of political and security prisoners.

Iran has announced 18,407 novel coronavirus infections and 1,284 deaths, the world´s highest toll apart from Italy and China, where the virus originated.

Alongside the amnesty, the judiciary announced that 85,000 prisoners had been granted two-week furloughs for the Nowruz holiday, further reducing the prison population. -- AFP

Transport officials in the British capital closed dozens of London Underground stations on Thursday, as the city tries to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The move, alongside other measures to scale back public transport across London, came as the government placed 20,000 troops on standby to help in the fight against Covid-19.

The official death toll in Britain from the virus reached 104 on Wednesday, up from 71 the previous day, with London the epicentre of the outbreak.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who on Wednesday ordered schools to close at the end of the week, had already urged people to limit social contact, work from home where possible and only make essential journeys.

"People should not be travelling, by any means, unless they really, really have to," London Mayor Sadiq Khan said. "London will get through these extraordinarily challenging times, and ensuring the capital´s critical workers can move around the city will be crucial."

Londoners are bracing for further measures and on Wednesday evening, the Ministry of Defence said 20,000 military personnel were being placed at "higher readiness" to help public services.

Reservists would be called in and 150 military personnel trained to drive oxygen tankers to support the health service if needed, defence minister Ben Wallace said.

The world stepped up its war on coronavirus as deaths soared again in Europe on Thursday, despite a sign of hope from China where zero new domestic cases were reported for the first time.

One major milestone came in China which listed no new domestic infections for the first time since the outbreak first erupted in the central city of Wuhan in December, before spreading worldwide.

But there were fears that Asia faces a second wave of cases imported from abroad, with 34 new cases reported in China Thursday, the highest figure for two weeks.

The pandemic is worsening elsewhere, with Italy appearing set to overtake China as the country where the most people are confirmed as having died from the Covid-19 disease.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Italy´s national lockdown, which has been copied around Europe, would be prolonged to April 3, shattering hopes of a quick end to the crisis. "We will not be able to return immediately to life as it was before," he said.

The disease continued to hit high-profile figures with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Monaco´s Prince Albert II among those testing positive.

With countries paralysed by the pandemic and stock markets imploding, policymakers this week unleashed a wave of measures to shore up the global economy.

The European Central Bank late Wednesday announced a 750-billion-euro bond-buying scheme dubbed the "big bazooka".

"Extraordinary times require extraordinary action. There are no limits to our commitment to the euro," ECB chief Christine Lagarde said.

US President Donald Trump signed a $100 billion (Rs16 billion) emergency aid package to provide free coronavirus testing for those who need it, sick pay and paid family leave. Trump said he viewed himself as a "wartime president", even as his administration faced growing criticism over a lack of testing for coronavirus and for the speed of its response.

The US has so far shied away from the sweeping restrictions used in China and many European countries, although the streets of many of its major cities have emptied as local curbs come into effect.

European and US stocks staged a rebound on the stimulus news, although Asian markets took another beating.

But the sense of impending doom continues to cast a pall over the world economy with airlines, carmakers and others all warning of bleak times ahead.

The battle is only just beginning across the rest of the world, with the shadow of the virus lengthening across Africa.

The Nigerian mega-city of Lagos announced it would shut its schools while Burkina Faso confirmed the first death in sub-Saharan Africa.

Russia reported its first death and even the Pacific nation of Fiji said it had its first case. The UN warned meanwhile that as nations bring in shutdowns and travel bans, some three billion people lack even the most basic weapons to protect themselves from the virus: soap and running water.

World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to "come together as one against a common enemy: an enemy against humanity".

As others stockpiled toilet paper and pasta, the French are thronging bakeries for their famed baguettes. "We´ve seen people come in who want to buy 50 baguettes at a time," said Matthieu Labbe of France´s Federation of Bakeries. "There´s something like a psychosis in some people,"