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Coronavirus: World leaders warn of ‘record’ economic pain

By Nick Perry, Associated Press

World leaders have warned of “record” economic pain as the coronavirus pandemic worsened.

Globally, the death toll from Covid-19 passed 10,000 and infections exceeded 244,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

More than 86,000 people have recovered, mostly in China, but the pace is much slower than the spread of the virus. Recovery takes two weeks or so for mild cases but can be up to six weeks for those that turn serious, according to the World Health Organisation.

The developments came as countries impose ever-stricter border controls and lockdowns to keep people at home and keep away outsiders, hoping to slow the spread of the virus while preparing for an onslaught of sick patients.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a looming global recession “perhaps of record dimensions”.

Iran accused the US of helping to spread the virus by retaining sanctions that prevent it importing desperately needed medicine and medical equipment. Tehran announced 149 more fatalities on Friday, taking its death toll to 1,433, exceeded only by the numbers in Italy and China, and fears remain that it is under-reporting the scale of its outbreak.

Iran’s UN Mission said the sanctions, imposed over the country’s nuclear programme, were making it virtually impossible for the country to import what it needs to fight the virus.

“In other words, while the US is trying to curb the virus internally, it is helping the spread of the virus externally,” it said in a statement.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom said that if strong action was not taken, 56% of the state’s 40 million residents could contract the virus over the next eight weeks.

He expanded restrictions on non-essential movement outside homes, saying it was necessary to control the spread of the virus, which is threatening to overwhelm California’s medical system.

Similar restrictions are in place in virus hotspots like Italy, Spain and central China.

(PA Graphics)

The US Army prepared mobile military hospitals for deployment in major cities, and motorists waited in long queues for nurses to swab their nostrils at new US drive-through testing sites.

The virus has infected at least one European head of state: Monaco’s 62-year-old Prince Albert, who continued to work from his office. He joins several public officials in Iran, Brazil, Australia and other countries who have the illness.

Italy, with 60 million citizens, has recorded 3,405 deaths, exceeding the 3,248 in China, a country with a population with more than 20 times larger. Italy’s caseload of 41,000 is more than half of China’s as well and more than 15% of the global total.

Health authorities in Spain said 1,002 people have died in the country during the outbreak, while infections have risen by 16% in 24 hours to reach 19,980.

Medical workers in Madrid (Manu Fernandez/AP)

Spain is the second-hardest hit country in Europe, behind Italy, and is in its first week of a lockdown. More than 10,000 people have been admitted to hospital, including more than 1,000 in intensive care units.

Though the illness is mild in most people, the elderly are particularly susceptible to serious symptoms. Italy has the world’s second-oldest population, and the vast majority of its dead – 87% – were over 70.

Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, a virologist at Germany’s Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, offered another reason for Italy’s high death rate: “That’s what happens when the health system collapses.”

Countries are trying to prevent that from happening by slowing the virus and increasing their medical capacity.

In the US, where deaths have reached at least 205, and infections climbed past 14,000, the army was planning to deploy two hospitals, probably to Seattle, Washington, and New York City.

Washington state has the highest death toll, 74, and New York City is rapidly becoming a US epicentre, with more than 4,000 cases.

A woman holds her scarf in front of her mouth on an almost deserted suburban train in Berlin at around 7.30am (Christoph Soeder/dpa/AP)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state needs to acquire thousands of ventilators, which would help the critically ill breathe, before the outbreak overwhelms hospitals.

“Every state is shopping for ventilators. We’re shopping for ventilators. We literally have people in China shopping for ventilators which is one of the largest manufacturers. So this is a major problem,” he said.

China, where the first cases of Covid-19 emerged in December, is seeing signs that its restrictive lockdowns and hastily built hospitals have worked. The epicentre of its outbreak, the city of Wuhan, had no new infections for a second day on Friday, the country’s health ministry said. All 39 new cases recorded nationally were from abroad.

In a measure of how the fortunes of East and West have shifted, a Chinese Red Cross official heading a delegation to Milan openly castigated Italians for failing to take the national lockdown seriously.

Sun Shuopeng said he was shocked to see so many people walking around, using public transport and eating out in hotels.

“Right now we need to stop all economic activity, and we need to stop the mobility of people,” he said. “All people should be staying at home in quarantine.”

The British Government, criticised as slow to react to the virus, shifted gear and drew up legislation giving itself new powers to detain people and restrict gatherings. The Bill is expected to be approved by Parliament next week.

The US State Department, meanwhile, warned Americans in the strongest terms yet not to travel abroad under any circumstances.

A pedestrian wearing a surgical mask and gloves walks past the New York Stock Exchange (Kevin Hagen/AP)

Damage to the world’s largest economy kept increasing, with the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surging by 70,000 last week.

Congress is weighing a proposed trillion-dollar emergency package which would dispense relief cheques to households in as many as two rounds, the first of which would consist of payments of 1,000 dollars per adult and 500 dollars for each child.

US governors and mayors sounded increasingly alarmed and took ever more drastic measures to fend off the crisis.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordered the closure of all “non life-sustaining” businesses in the state, with exceptions for petrol stations, grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurant takeaway services, and warned that violators could be subject to fines or imprisonment.

In a video conference with President Donald Trump, governors complained they were having difficulty obtaining such things as swabs and protective gear for doctors and nurses.

And New York Mayor Bill de Blasio lashed out at Mr Trump as “the Herbert Hoover of your generation”, referring to the man who was president when the stock market crashed in 1929 and the Depression set in.