WASHINGTON: The total number of global fatalities from the coronavirus pandemic soared past 60,000 on Saturday as US President Donald Trump warned of tough days ahead.
As confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States surpassed 300,000 with more than 8,300 deaths, there was some encouraging news in Italy and Spain.
Europe continues to bear the brunt of the epidemic, however, accounting for over 45,000 of the worldwide deaths, and Britain reported a new daily high in fatalities.
There are now more than 1.17 million confirmed coronavirus cases around the world and there have been 63,437 deaths since the virus emerged in China late last year.
Billions of people are living under some form on lockdown. Roughly half the planet is confined at home with schools and businesses closed, at huge cost to the global economy.
China came to a standstill on Saturday to mourn those killed in the outbreak that started in the city of Wuhan before sweeping the globe.
Across the nation, cars, trains and ships sounded their horns, and air-raid sirens wailed.
Trump, speaking at a White House briefing, said the United States was entering “a time that’s going to be very horrendous” with “some really bad numbers.”
“This will probably be the toughest week,” he said. “There will be a lot of death.”
At the same time, Trump said the US cannot remain shut down forever.
“Mitigation does work but again, we’re not going to destroy our country,” he said. “I’ve said it from the beginning — the cure cannot be worse than the problem.
“At a certain point some hard decisions are going to have to be made.”
‘Allow our hospitals to breathe’
Pandemic-hit Italy cheered on Saturday after seeing its number of intensive care cases for coronavirus drop for the first time — from 4,068 on Friday to 3,994 on Saturday.
Even some of the most cautious Italian health officials seized on the figures as evidence that the tide may be turning in the deadliest disaster the country has faced since World War II.
“This is a very important data point,” said civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli, adding that it “allows our hospitals to breathe.”
The daily rise in new infections across Italy has also slowed. The country reported 681 new deaths on Saturday, down from a peak of almost 1,000 just over a week ago.
Spain, which is under a near-total lockdown, saw a second successive daily fall in coronavirus-related deaths with 809 fatalities.
The total number of deaths in Spain now stands at 11,744, second only to Italy.
Although the number of new cases also slowed, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced an extension of the country’s lockdown until April 25.
At a field hospital in Madrid set up at a conference center, staff applauded whenever a patient was healthy enough to be discharged.
One of them was 59-year-old builder Eduardo Lopez who gave a “10/10” rating to the staff who cared for him “with tenderness and a great dose of humanity.”
‘We need you’
France on Saturday reported 441 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, lower than the record number of 588 recorded the previous day.
This brought the total number of deaths in France to 7,560 since the epidemic began, top health official Jerome Salomon said.
Britain’s overall death toll climbed to more than 4,300 out of nearly 42,000 cases with a five-year-old among the fatalities.
Queen Elizabeth II is to make a rare special address to Britain and Commonwealth nations on Sunday during which she will urge people to rise to the challenge posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
New York state, the US outbreak’s epicenter, saw a record 630 deaths in a single day and Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the worst was yet to come. The state has recorded a total of 3,565 deaths.
Cuomo cautioned that already strained hospitals were not prepared.
“Part of me would like to be at the apex and just, ‘let’s do it.’ But there’s part of me that says it’s good that we’re not at the apex because we’re not yet ready,” he said.
New York City appealed for licensed medical personnel to volunteer their services.
“Anyone who’s not already in this fight, we need you,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
Trump said 1,000 military personnel, mostly doctors and nurses, would be deployed to New York City to “assist where they’re needed the most.”
“That’s the hottest of all the hot spots,” he said.
Trump also said he had asked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to expedite shipments of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug which the US leader has been touting as a treatment for coronavirus although clinical trials are still underway.
“I may take it,” Trump said. “I’ll have to ask my doctors about that.”
Several Western countries including the US, Germany and France have in recent days encouraged the use of masks in public despite earlier saying that only carers needed to cover their faces.
The U-turn has angered and confused some citizens, and spurred a flurry of online tutorials for DIY masks.
It comes after some studies suggested the new coronavirus can be spread through speaking and breathing, not just coughing and sneezing. US authorities said wearing a simple homemade mask or scarf could help stem rocketing infection rates.
The World Health Organisation is reviewing its guidance but has said it worries that masks could give “a false sense of security,” leading people to be more casual about hand washing and social distancing.