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AFP
March 22, 2020

Nearly 1bn people confined to homes globally to curb virus

World

AFP
March 22, 2020

NEW YORK: Close to one billion people worldwide were confined to their homes on Saturday as the global coronavirus death toll shot past 11,000 and US states rolled out lockdown measures already imposed across swathes of Europe.

The pandemic has completely upended lives across the planet, restricting movement, shutting schools and forcing millions to work from home.

While President Donald Trump insisted the United States was "winning" the war against the virus, individual states dramatically ramped up restrictions, with New York and Illinois joining California in ordering residents to stay home.

The virus death toll surged past 11,000 worldwide, with 4,000 alone in worst-hit Italy where the daily number of fatalities has shot up relentlessly over the past week.

An estimated 900 million people are now confined to their homes in 35 countries around the world -- including 600 million hemmed in by obligatory government lockdown orders -- according to an AFP tally.

While the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are the hardest hit by the virus, the World Health Organization warned that young people were also vulnerable.

"Today I have a message for young people: you are not invincible. This virus could put you in hospital for weeks -- or even kill you," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"Even if you don’t get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else."

China on Saturday reported no new local infections for a third straight day, and the WHO said the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged late last year, offered a glimmer of "hope for the rest of the world".

But there are growing concerns of a new wave of "imported" infections in the region, with Hong Kong reporting 48 suspected cases on Friday -- its biggest daily jump since the crisis began. Many of them have a recent history of travel to or from Europe.

Italy reported its worst single day death toll on Friday, adding another 627 fatalities and taking its reported total to 4,032 despite efforts to stem the spread.

The nation of 60 million now accounts for 36 percent of the world’s coronavirus deaths and its death rate of 8.6 percent among confirmed infections is significantly higher than in most other countries.

France, Italy, Spain and other European countries have ordered people to stay at home, threatening fines in some cases, while Bavaria became the first region in Germany to order a lockdown.

Britain, falling in line with its EU neighbours, also announced tougher restrictions, telling pubs, restaurants and theatres to close and promising to help cover the wages of affected workers.

Australia’s famed Bondi beach was also ordered shut after sunbathers crowded the hotspot in defiance of government orders to avoid non-essential outdoor gatherings.

"This is not something we are doing because we are the ‘fun police’... this is about saving lives," New South Wales state Police Minister David Elliott told reporters.

With virus fears gripping the United States, its largest state California -- with over 1,000 cases and 19 deaths -- told its 40 million residents to stay at home.