Medics assist a sick crew member (C) from one of two boats which requested assistance, as they arrive at the US Coast Guard Base in Miami, on March 26, 2020 The US Coast Guard is facilitating medical evacuations on March 26 after requests were made by Costa Magica and Costa Favolosa for life-critical care ashore for multiple crew members presenting with respiratory symptoms consistent with pneumonia and bronchitis.
AFP/Chandan Khanna
US tops world in virus cases, overtaking China and Italy
Shaun Tandon (Agence France-Presse) - March 27, 2020 - 8:00am

WASHINGTON, United States — The United States on Thursday took the grim title of the country with the most coronavirus infections and reported a record surge in unemployment as world leaders vowed $5 trillion to stave off global economic collapse.

More than 500,000 people around the world have now contracted the new coronavirus, overwhelming healthcare systems even in wealthy nations and triggering an avalanche of government-ordered lockdowns that have disrupted life for billions.

In the United States, more than 82,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19, edging out Italy, which has reported the most deaths, and China, where the virus was first detected in December in the metropolis of Wuhan.

With fears mounting of a global recession if not depression, leaders from the Group of 20 major economies held crisis talks by video link Thursday, pledging a "united front" to fight the outbreak — along with an enormous financial injection. 

"The virus respects no borders," the leaders said in a statement.

"We are injecting over $5 trillion into the global economy, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures, and guarantee schemes to counteract the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic." 

They also pledged "robust" support for developing nations, where coronavirus could next take hold after ravaging China and then Europe.

But the unity pledged by the G20 has been in short supply with China and the United States trading barbs over their handling of the coronavirus crisis.

And Italy as well as Spain, which has the second-highest death toll, objected to a draft economic plan by the European Union which they saw as too weak.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wants a "strong and sufficient" financial response that deploys "innovative financial instruments truly adapted to a war," his office said.

Record one-day toll in France

Alarmed by the rapid spread of the sickness in Italy, France has taken aggressive action to stem the virus and went under lockdown on March 17.

But the 365 deaths reported Thursday was its highest in a one-day period and, alarmingly, included a 16-year-old girl — a rare case of a young person succumbing to a virus that has devastated the elderly.

"It is very difficult to estimate when the peak will come," French health official Jerome Salomon said. "People who are ill now were infected before the confinement began." 

"Now there is less contact, people are going out less and get infected less. So we hope there will be fewer people getting sick next week and fewer people going to hospital," he told reporters.

With hospitals under severe strain, medical workers in Italy and Spain are making painstaking choices.

"If I've got five patients and only one bed, I have to choose who gets it," Sara Chinchilla, a pediatrician at a hospital near Madrid, told AFP.

"People are dying who could be saved but there's no space in intensive care."

In Britain, the National Health Service said London's hospitals are facing a "continuous tsunami" of seriously ill COVID-19 patients, despite a lockdown imposed this week.

And in New York, the virus  hotbed in the United States, authorities hope to stem the growth of infections as the city needs to more than double the number of available hospital beds.

"Almost any scenario that is realistic will overwhelm the capacity of the current healthcare system," Governor Andrew Cuomo warned.

Economic devastation

The pandemic has already, and rapidly, been catastrophic to the global economy.

In the United States, the world's largest economy, the Labor Department reported that 3.3 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week — by far the highest number ever recorded.

Job losses have swept across sectors from food services to retail to transportation as nearly half of the country has closed to "non-essential" businesses.

"It is staggering. We are only seeing the initial numbers; they will get worse, unfortunately," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters, estimating that half a million people in the city would lose work. 

But Wall Street soared for a third straight day, recouping more of this month's hefty losses, on expectations for the largest stimulus in US history.

The Senate early Thursday unanimously passed a $2 trillion package that will provide cash payouts averaging $3,400 for a  family of four. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi voiced confidence that the House of Representatives would follow suit on Friday.

President Donald Trump, who has been hoping that a strong economy would win him re-election in November, has been one of the few US leaders to seek a quick return to normal.

Priests at risk

The global lockdown — which also hemmed in India's huge population this week — tightened further on Thursday as Russia announced it was grounding all international flights, while Moscow's mayor ordered the closure of cafes, shops and parks.

Tokyo's millions of citizens have been told to stay home, too, just days after the city was forced to postpone the 2020 Olympic Games for a year.

China said it was barring entry to most foreigners, fearing that imported cases were undermining its success in bringing domestic transmissions way down.

And South Africa braced for a nationwide lockdown as its cases climbed to more than 900 — about a third of Africa's 2,975 cases.   

The impact of the virus has stretched well beyond frontline health workers, with billions trapped in their homes and facing what experts say could be lasting psychological harm.

In virus-stricken Italy, clergy members have been among the worst affected. Out of Italy's more than 7,500 deaths, 67 have been priests.

But offering a glimmer of hope, both Italy and Spain have seen lower daily rates of new infections this week. 

The World Health Organization called Italy's numbers "encouraging signs" but warned it was "still too early to say whether the pandemic is peaking."

A study from Britain's Imperial College provided a grim prediction, saying 1.8 million people could die worldwide this year even with swift action to halt the virus. — with Stuart Williams in Paris and Anuj Chopra in Riyadh

CHINA ITALY NOVEL CORONAVIRUS UNITED STATES
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 8, 2020 - 4:08pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

April 8, 2020 - 4:08pm

The Department of Health reports 106 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 3,870.

There are 23 new recoveries and five new fatalities, the DOH adds.

April 8, 2020 - 3:32pm

Voicing joy and excitement from behind face masks, tens of thousands of people fled Wuhan on Wednesday after a 76-day travel ban was lifted on the Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged.

Previously quiet train and bus stations bustled as an exodus began from the city of 11 million, with some passengers wearing hazmat suits.

Hao Mei, a single parent from the nearby city of Enshi, said her two children had been home alone since she got stuck in Wuhan, where she works in a school kitchen.

"You have no idea! I was already up around 4 am. I felt so good. My kids are so excited. Mum is finally coming home," the 39-year-old told AFP as she waited to board a train.

"At the start of the lockdown, I cried every night. I was really miserable, because my little girl is still young, she's only 10."

Up to 55,000 people are expected to leave Wuhan on Wednesday just by train, according to government estimates. -- AFP

April 8, 2020 - 12:14pm

The National Telecommunications Commission and United Nations Children’s Fund join hands with the telecommunications to ensure parents and children’s security both online and offline amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Upon UNICEF’s request, the NTC extends its support in spreading information to alleviate the situation. The telecommunications sector is sending out text blasts encouraging subscribers to visit unicef.ph and saferkidsph.org for information and tips on how to support parents and children in managing the impact of COVID-19. 

April 8, 2020 - 8:02am

US President Donald Trump threatens to put a "hold" on funds to the World Health Organization, accusing it of bias toward China and performing badly in the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump tells he was "going to put a very powerful hold on" the WHO, the UN body whose biggest funding source is the United States. He gave no details about how much money would be withheld or when. — AFP

April 8, 2020 - 8:01am

The worldwide number of fatalities from the novel coronavirus rises 80,142, according to a tally compiled by AFP at 1900 GMT from official sources.

More than 1,397,180 declared cases have been registered in 192 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December. Of these cases, at least 257,100 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP offices from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. — AFP

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