Global emergency efforts ramp up as pandemic deaths soar

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ROME, March 23, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Global emergency efforts to slow the
coronavirus pandemic ramped up Monday with more governments imposing
extraordinary lockdowns, as the death toll topped 15,000 and more than one
billion people were confined to their homes.

From Germany banning even small gatherings, Italy barring travel, New
Zealand announcing a new lockdown and Hong Kong shutting its borders to non-
residents, the new round of containment efforts highlighted a deepening sense
of panic around the world.

According to an AFP tally, some 1.7 billion people globally have now been
asked to stay home in line with mandatory or recommended measures rolled out
by governments scrambling to slow the tide of the deadly pandemic.

And with major cultural and sporting already wiped off the calendar, this
year’s Tokyo Olympics may be in peril. There are mounting calls to postpone
the event and Japan’s prime minister admitted for the first time a delay
could be “inevitable”.

Markets on both sides of the Atlantic were hammered again Monday and the
virus continued to wreak havoc on the global economy, spurring fears of a
global fallout not seen since the Great Depression.

– ‘Necessary measures’ –

The death toll from the virus surged to more than 15,000, with over
340,000 infections, according to an AFP tally Monday, with Europe the new
epicentre of the outbreak that first emerged in China late last year.

Italy’s world-worst toll from the pandemic approached 5,500 with another
651 deaths reported on Sunday.

Though still high, the daily toll was a slight dip from the previous
count, offering a sliver of hope the country may finally be turning a corner.

European nations continued to choke people’s movement, with Greece the
latest nation to follow Italy, Spain and France in imposing a nationwide
lockdown.

City streets in Greece normally packed with Monday morning traffic were
suddenly deserted as residents stayed inside — leaving the house only for
essential trips.

“It’s a bit of a hassle… but these measures are necessary and we’ll get
used to them,” said Athens resident Maria Bourras, who leaves her house
regularly to walk her dog.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday announced a ban on
gatherings of more than two people, before putting herself in quarantine
after learning she had been treated by an infected doctor.

Her office said Monday the 65-year-old was “doing well” and awaiting
coronavirus test results.

– Brits on the beach –

Italy banned travel and shut down a range of industries and businesses
Monday, a new wave of restrictions designed to finally slow the rate of
deaths and infections.

Residents in locked-down Italy were finding creative ways to pass the time
indoors as shut-in measures neared the two-week mark.

“Since I can’t go out, I do gymnastic exercises in my house. I drink at
least five times a day: I’ve got five glasses of water lined up in my kitchen
so I don’t forget!” 86-year-old Rome resident Carla Basagni told AFP.

Meanwhile Spain readied to extend its state of emergency, which bars
people from leaving home unless absolutely essential, until April 11.

It reported another spike in fatalities Monday, bringing its total to
2,182 dead — the third highest in the world after Italy and China.

Residents across France, where the death toll jumped to 674, also remained
shut in their homes and the government said lockdown measures could extend
past the end of March.

Meanwhile Britain inched towards similar tough measures, with the
government under pressure to clamp down after crowds flocked to holiday
hotspots and beaches at the weekend, defying social distancing
recommendations.

– ‘We’re at war’ –

Across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump ordered thousands of
emergency hospital beds to be set up at coronavirus hotspots as a trillion-
dollar economic rescue package crashed in the Senate.

“We’re at war, in a true sense we’re at war,” Trump said.

More than a third of Americans were under various forms of lockdown in the
country, including in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but the number of
infections nationally has continued to climb.

Highlighting the desperation in the world’s biggest economy, the mayor of
New York said his city was just 10 days away from running out of ventilators.

Markets reeled after the mega rescue package collapsed, sending bourses in
Asia, Europe and the US on a downward spiral again.

The economic fallout from the virus has sparked fears of a global slump
not seen for decades.

“This is the biggest economic shock our nation has faced in generations,”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as he warned the pandemic could
lead to a crisis akin to the 1930s Great Depression.

– Moral burden –

As the pandemic overwhelms hospitals, doctors are having to quickly
prioritise patients based on their chances of survival, inflicting a huge
moral burden.

“We go into medicine to heal people. Not to make choices about who can
live,” said Philippe Devos, an anaesthesiologist in Belgium.

The virus emerged in China in December, after first being detected at a
market that sold wild animals for human consumption in the central city of
Wuhan.

China has since sought to sow doubts over whether the virus began in
Wuhan, while portraying itself as a saviour in the global fight and a role
model for quarantines.

After coming under fire for a lack of transparency early on, Beijing is
now sending medical supplies to Europe and Asia to help fight the pandemic.

On Monday it reported no new local cases of the virus, while life slowly
started returning to normal in Wuhan with people heading back to work and
public transport resuming.

– Second wave –

But there are fears across Asia of “imported” cases from Europe and other
hotspots.

New Zealand has yet to be hit hard but on Monday announced a four-week
lockdown to prevent a Europe-style crisis, with Colombia set to follow suit
on Wednesday.

Hong Kong, which had largely avoided the virus in the first wave despite
being so close to the Chinese mainland, said it would stop all non-residents
from entering.

Some 8,600 restaurants and bars with a licence will also be banned from
selling alcohol but will, for now, be allowed to remain open. The new
measures were supported by some, after images of foreigners crowding bars
sparked anger in the city.

“They have this attitude of ‘Well, I’m ok, so not sure I need to.’ That to
me is really dangerous,” bar owner Gary Stokes told AFP.