By Philippe Rater with Diego Urdaneta in Madrid and AFP bureaus | AFP
UNITED NATIONS, US, 25 March 2020
More than three billion people are living under lockdown measures to stem the spread of the killer coronavirus that the United Nations warned Wednesday is threatening all of humanity.
As the global death toll soared past 20,000 Spain joined Italy in seeing its number of fatalities overtake China, where the virus first emerged just three months ago.
“COVID-19 is threatening the whole of humanity -– and the whole of humanity must fight back,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, launching an appeal for $2 billion to help the world’s poor.
“Global action and solidarity are crucial. Individual country responses are not going to be enough.”
Markets rebounded after Washington vowed to spend $2 trillion to fend off a US economic collapse, while governments elsewhere are still taking ever more dramatic steps to contain the disease.
India’s stay-at-home order for its 1.3 billion people is now the biggest, taking the total number of people facing restrictions on their daily lives to more than three billion.
Russia, which announced the death of two patients who tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday, is expected to follow suit.
President Vladimir Putin declared next week a public holiday and postponed a public vote on controversial constitutional reforms, urging people to help each other and follow instructions given by medics and the authorities.
In Britain, heir to the throne Prince Charles became the latest high-profile figure to become infected while Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the country’s response to tackle the outbreak despite accusations it was slow to act.
The G20 major economies will hold an emergency videoconference summit on Thursday to discuss a global response to the crisis, as will the 27 leaders of the European Union, the outbreak’s new epicentre.
China has begun to relax its own draconian restrictions on free movement in the province of Hubei — the original epicentre of the outbreak — after the country reported no new cases.
Huge crowds jammed trains and buses as people in the province of 50 million people took their first opportunity to travel.
But Spain saw the number of deaths surge to 3,434 after more than 738 people died in the past 24 hours and the government announced a 432-million-euro ($467 million) deal to buy medical supplies from Beijing.
People dying alone
At La Paz university hospital in Madrid, accident and emergency nurse Guillen del Barrio sounded bereft as he related what happened overnight.
“It is really hard, we had feverish people for many hours in the waiting room,” the 30-year-old told AFP.
“Many of my colleagues were crying because there were people who are dying alone, without seeing their family for the last time.”
Spain and Italy were joined by France and six more EU countries in urging Germany and the Netherlands to allow the issue of joint European bonds to cut borrowing costs and stabilise the eurozone economy.
This is likely to fall on deaf ears when the 27 leaders talk on Thursday — with northern members wary of pooling debt with big spenders — but they will sign off on an “unprecedented” recovery plan.
Coronavirus cases are also spreading in the Middle East, where Iran’s death toll topped 2,000, and in Africa, where Mali declaring its first case and several nations announced states of emergency.
And in Japan, which has postponed this year’s Olympic Games, Tokyo’s governor urged residents to stay home this weekend, warning of a possible “explosion” of the coronavirus.
The impact of the pandemic is also hitting European football in a big way, with top-flight leagues and tournaments cancelled.
Wartime level of investment
The economic damage of the virus — and the lockdowns — could also be devastating, with fears of a worldwide recession worse than the financial meltdown more than a decade ago.
But financial markets rose after US leaders agreed a stimulus package worth roughly 10 percent of their economy, an injection Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said represented a “wartime level of investment”.
The US Senate was poised to pass the massive relief package for Americans and businesses ravaged by the pandemic as New York hospitals braced for a wave of virus patients,
Meanwhile, nearly 130 million Americans, or 40 percent of the population, are under or will soon come under some lockdown order, including in the largest state of California.
President Donald Trump has voiced hope the US will be “raring to go” by mid-April, but his optimism appeared to stand almost alone among world leaders.
Anxious Indians raced for supplies after the government ordered the world’s second-biggest population to stay at home for three weeks from Wednesday.
“To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family… every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
Whether the order will be obeyed in full remained to be seen. Mumbai vegetable trader Rafiq Ansari said his customers were getting angry over shortages and price hikes.
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” the 35-year-old told AFP. “We are going to face major shortages in the days ahead.”
Iran announced it would ban intercity travel as it finally got tough with the virus that has killed more than 2,000 people in one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks.
Many governments are listening to health experts who warn the only way to slow the epidemic — and save the lives of the elderly and vulnerable — is by imposing “social isolation” measures.
The disease popularly called "Coronavirus" is one of many "Coronavirus diseases", which also include the common cold and several kinds of flu. The one we are worried about is "Coronavirus disease 2019", shortened to COVID-19. It is caused by a virus called "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" (SARS-CoV-2).
People can get the virus, and not get the disease. But they can carry it and affect others. That is the reason for the measures we use to combat it.