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Agencies
March 21, 2020

Corona kills over 10,000 globally

Top Story

A
Agencies
March 21, 2020

PARIS: The number of novel coronavirus cases globally stood at 246,440 with 10,316 deaths, across 161 countries and territories at 1100 GMT Friday, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources. Since 1900 GMT on Thursday, there were 490 new deaths reported and 13,763 new cases globally. The tallies, using data collected by AFP offices from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), likely reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections, with many countries now only testing cases that require hospitalization China — excluding Hong Kong and Macau — where the outbreak emerged in late December, has to date declared 80,976 cases, including 3,248 deaths, with 71,150 people recovered. The country declared 48 new cases and three new fatalities since Thursday. Italy, which recorded its first coronavirus death in February, now has more fatalities than China with 3,405, as well as having 41,035 infections with 4,440 recoveries. The third worst-hit country is Iran with 1,433 fatalities and 19,644 cases, followed by Spain with 1,002 deaths and 19,980 cases, and France with 372 deaths and 10,995 cases.

Since 1900 GMT Thursday, Peru announced its first fatality, while Haiti, the US Virgin Islands and the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia have reported their first cases.

California, among the worst hit state in the United States, has told its 40 million residents to stay at home, the most drastic move yet in the US.

However, the California measures will not be enforced by police unlike in France, Italy, Spain and other European countries where people face fines if they break the rules.

Germany´s biggest state Bavaria Friday became the first region in the country to order a lockdown, imposing "fundamental restrictions" on going out for two weeks.

The strict measures follow the template set by China, as a lockdown imposed in Hubei province where the novel coronavirus first emerged appears to have paid off.

The country is now reporting only a handful of new infections each day, all of them apparently from overseas visitors.

Europe now accounts for half of the 10,000 fatalities linked to the COVID-19 disease around the world. However, accurate figures are difficult to come by as many of those who die are suffering from other illnesses and infection rates are uncertain because of a lack of testing in many countries.

They come to bless those suffering the most from the novel coronavirus. And then, more and more often, Italy´s priests die themselves.

The diocese of Bergamo northeast of Milan appears to have been ravaged the most by the stealth killer.

At least 10 of its priests have died of COVID-19, the Catholic daily Avvenire reported Thursday.

The deaths, whether of priests or members of their communities, are "so numerous that it is difficult to count", the paper wrote.

The pandemic has sparked fears of a global recession, battering the world´s stock markets and prompting governments to push huge spending plans to limit the damage.

The central banks of the United States, Japan Britain, Canada and Switzerland joined forces on Friday to announce a new effort to keep dollars pumping through the world economy.

The US meanwhile is showing signs that it is ramping up efforts on all fronts, fast-tracking antimalarial drugs for use against the virus, halting all routine visa services at embassies and promising a $1 trillion emergency relief package.

The US package -- coupled with a European Central Bank plan to buy 750 billion euros in bonds -- saw stock markets across Asia and Europe rebound in Friday trading but US exchanges had a mixed morning.

US President Donald Trump, who has come under fire for his response to the crisis, said on Thursday that US officials would make antimalarials chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine available "almost immediately".

Across Europe, governments continued to rigorously enforce lockdown measures as the continent´s most celebrated boulevards and squares remained silent and empty even as warmer spring weather arrived.

France announced more than 4,000 people were fined on the first day of its confinement and ministers branded those breaking the rules as "idiots".

France and Italy have both said they are likely extend the confinement beyond the initial periods, and British schools will close indefinitely on Friday.

As Europeans battle to cope with the isolation, technology companies have begun to hint at the strain being put on their systems.

Both Netflix and YouTube, which say they have experienced a surge in demand since lockdowns began, have promised to reduce the default image quality of streaming video in Europe to ease pressure on the internet.

However, the restrictions are bringing some communities closer together.

In sparsely populated rural Spain — a country that ranks fourth in the world for coronavirus infections — neighbours are pulling together to help the old and the vulnerable.

Sergio Caminero, 30, who lives in Lovingos, a tiny hamlet north of Madrid, went to pick up some shopping for an elderly neighbour.

"She´s older and is quite frightened and tense," he told AFP.

The United States and China on Friday took their growing clash over the coronavirus pandemic to social media, with Beijing telling Secretary of State Mike Pompeo he was "lying through (his) teeth."

In an interview on Fox News, Pompeo said Beijing "wasted valuable days" after identifying the novel coronavirus by letting "hundreds of thousands" leave the epicenter of Wuhan to places including Italy, which has surpassed China as the country with the highest death toll.

"The Chinese Communist Party didn´t get it right and put countless lives at risk as a result of that," Pompeo said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying voiced anger on Twitter, writing in English: "Stop lying through your teeth!"

"As WHO experts said,China´s efforts averted hundreds of thousands of infection cases," she tweeted.

She said China first told the United States of the novel coronavirus outbreak on January 3, with the State Department alerting Americans in Wuhan on January 15.

"And now blame China for delay? Seriously?" she wrote.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus replied: "By Jan. 3, Chinese authorities had already ordered #COVID19 virus samples destroyed, silenced Wuhan doctors, and censored public concerns online."

Hua "is right: This is a timeline the world must absolutely scrutinize," Ortagus tweeted.

Italy´s government said Friday it is considering even further restrictions on its already locked-down population as the country reels under the continued spread of the coronavirus.

The country now has the most coronavirus fatalities in the world, after it surpassed China on Thursday with a rise of 427 deaths to an overall toll of 3,405.

"In the next 24 to 48 hours, new restrictions are possible," Italy´s minister of regional affairs Francesco Boccia said Friday, citing the possibility of banning open-air activities.

The United States said Friday it was suspending all routine visa services around the world due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

US embassies and consulates will still consider emergency visas if they have adequate staff, the State Department said.

"In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all US embassies and consulates," a travel advisory said.

The State Department had already said it was suspending visa issuance at most posts overseas. But Friday´s order was global and, while temporary, there was no date set for services to resume.

The suspension will not in itself affect travelers, largely from Western and wealthy Asian nations, who can come to the United States without visas. However, the United States has temporarily halted arrivals of most Europeans in a move to halt the spread of the pandemic.

US embassies will still be open and available to assist US citizens, the State Department said. The State Department has nonetheless urged all Americans overseas to come home if commercial flights are available due to limited assistance available and travel bottlenecks created by the pandemic.

From makers of toilet paper to firms offering deep cleans for offices and homes -- Britain´s hygiene sector is facing unprecedented demand fuelled by the coronavirus outbreak.

"We have not known anything like this for as long as I can recall," Paul Thrupp, chairman of the British Cleaning Council (BCC), told AFP.

"It´s a challenge but it´s one the cleaning sector can really respond to and there is an opportunity we can influence and slow down the spread by adopting good hygiene practices."

Fantastic Services, which also carries out house and office repairs, said clients were looking to have maintenance jobs completed before the UK government potentially orders stricter restrictions on the population´s movement.

Country Representative of World Health Organization (WHO) Pakistan Dr Palitha Mahipala on Friday urged more unified actions and coordinated efforts to combat the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan.

Addressing a press conference, Dr Palitha asked to continue efforts that had been effective in limiting the number of cases and slowing the spread of the virus.

The spread of the virus could be slowed significantly or even reversed through the implementation of robust containment and control activities.

He said, in order to reduce further transmission, there should be developing or updating, readying or implementing coronavirus prevention plans for promoting understanding of the disease, its symptoms and appropriate behavior among people.

He said the WHO was working closely with all the communities and countries affected from the coronavirus, including Pakistan, for setting up a reporting system for any cases and contacts, preparing essentials, limiting travel and physical connectivity, social distance awareness and planning for measures such as screening, training of medical staff and disease combating strategies.

Iran said Friday that coronavirus has killed 149 more people in the Islamic republic, raising the country´s official death toll from the disease to 1,433.

Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi said 1,237 more cases have been confirmed over the past 24 hours and 19,644 people are now known to have been infected in Iran, one of the world´s worst-hit countries.

Some 300 million children who depend on school meals are missing out due to closures triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the World Food Programme said Friday.

The WFP pointed out that more than 860 million children -- roughly half the world´s student population -- were having to stay away from schools and universities due to shutdowns aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19.

In addition to missing out on learning, hundreds of thousands of children are now missing free school lunches, the UN agency said.

The WFP said nearly nine million children out of the 18 million the organisation itself feeds through school meals across 61 countries were no longer receiving them.

The agency said it was looking into alternative ways of providing children out of school with food, including take-home meals.

YouTube has unveiled a fresh effort to stem the spread of coronavirus misinformation with a "news shelf" on its homepage promoting "authoritative content."

The move is the latest by technology platforms to curb the sharing of rumors and hoaxes about the pandemic, with Facebook having announced a similar action this week.

"We want everyone to have access to authoritative content during this trying time, so we´re launching a COVID-19 news shelf on our homepage in 16 countries," the Google-owned video sharing service said in a statement on Twitter late Thursday.

"We´ll expand to more countries, as well."

YouTube earlier this week joined other large US internet platforms in a joint effort to root out misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

Sri Lanka imposed a nationwide weekend curfew on Friday as South Asian countries escalated efforts to check the spread of coronavirus across the densely populated region of 1.9 billion people.

South Asia appears to have been less hard hit than elsewhere in the world, but the rate of new infections in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka is accelerating with the total across South Asia passing 800. Seven people have died.

A police curfew took effect nationwide in Sri Lanka at 6pm on Friday and will run until 6am on Monday, as the authorities on the island acted to slow transmission of the virus, which has infected 70 people there.

In India's financial hub Mumbai, the authorities on Friday ordered all businesses and offices other than those providing essential services to shut down until further notice.

In a nationally televised address late on Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to citizens to stay home and avoid panic buying, and suggested a one-day nationwide curfew for Sunday to practice social distancing.

India, the world's second-most populous country, also plans to halt all incoming international flights to help stem the number of cases, which passed 220 on Friday.