Coronavirus: Spain plans to ramp up testing as death toll surpasses 1,300

Singapore records first fatalities; 70m in lockdown in US; China’s imported cases rise

Cities across the world were deserted this week as governments ordered the closure of businesses due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Reuters/ As credited

 

Spanish authorities said on Saturday that they would boost coronavirus testing, potentially with the help of robots, as the toll in the country kept climbing, surpassing 1,300 deaths and reaching close to 25,000 cases.

Europe’s second-worst outbreak showed no sign of improvement as the single-day death toll jumped over 300 people from the previous day. Intensive care units kept filling up at a hectic pace in some hospitals.

Health officials said cases were likely to keep increasing and said they did not know when a peak would be reached.

The death toll jumped to 1,326 from 1,002 the day before, according to health ministry data released on Saturday. The number of cases rose to 24,926 from 19,980.

Testing is set to increase - the government announced on Saturday it had acquired over 640,000 testing devices and said that number could quickly reach a million.

Raquel Yotti, director of Carlos III Public Health Institute, said the first devices were being distributed on Saturday and added the government was working on acquiring four robots that could bring the daily number of daily tests to 80,000. That would be up from 15,000-20,000 a day at the moment.

Pharmacy employees in Ronda,, Spain sing as people applaud them from their windows and balconies as part of an event organized through social media to show gratitude to healthcare workers. Photograph: Jon Nazca/Reuters
Pharmacy employees in Ronda, Spain sing as people applaud them from their windows and balconies as part of an event organized through social media to show gratitude to healthcare workers. Photograph: Jon Nazca/Reuters

Worldwide, the death toll from coronavirus, also known as 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 about two weeks for mild cases but can be up to six weeks for those that turn serious, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

US

Three major American states are locking down their residents in the face of coronavirus which is already severely straining health systems in parts of Europe.

Officials in New York and Illinois announced they would largely restrict residents to their homes from this weekend, after California – America’s largest state – did so on Friday. The three states have a combined population of more than 70 million people. With American hospitals already under pressure, officials are desperate to prevent – or at least limit – a repeat of what has happened in parts of China, Italy and Spain where the outbreak has overwhelmed medical services.

Stuart Malcolm, a doctor with the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic visits homeless people to talk about corona virus in San Francisco on March 17th. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP
Stuart Malcolm, a doctor with the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic visits homeless people to talk about corona virus in San Francisco on March 17th. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP

Globally, governments are trying to balance locking down residents with the need to keep food, medicine and other essentials flowing. The Trump administration upgraded its warning to Americans against all international travel, and the State Department announced new restrictions on issuing passports to US citizens

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 drive-through testing sites. New York City is rapidly becoming a US epicentre, with more than 4,000 cases. The area is preparing to ration its ventilators for sick coronavirus patients and is also preparing guidance on how to deploy vital ventilators amid a widespread shortage of key equipment that also includes masks and surgical gloves, and medical supplies such as blood.

Singapore

Singapore reported two virus-related deaths on Saturday of people with underlying health conditions, marking the first fatalities in the city-state’s widely praised battle against the infection.

It reported 47 new cases of coronavirus, which were mainly imported, taking the city-state’s tally to 432 infections.

Of the new cases, 39 were imported and had a travel history to countries including Australia, Europe, North America and Southeast Asian nations, the health ministry said in a statement. A majority were returning residents and long-term pass holders.

Saturday’s number of new cases is the same as the count reported on March 18th, the city-state’s biggest daily jump.

Europe

Southern Europe is buckling under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, with patients filling the wards of hospitals in Spain and Italy as the global death toll passed 10,000 people.

The WHO noted the dramatic speed of the virus’s spread, saying: “It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases, and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000.”

The death toll in Italy rose by 793 to 4,825 on Saturday, officials said. It is the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged a month ago. On Thursday, Italy overtook China as the country to register most deaths from Covid-19. The total number of cases in Italy rose to 53,578 from a previous 47,021, an increase of 13.9 per cent, the country’s civil protection agency said.

Local newspaper Eco di Bergamo features several pages of obituaries in its March 17th, 2020 edition, in Mediglia, Italy. Photograph: Luca Bruno/AFP
Local newspaper Eco di Bergamo features several pages of obituaries in its March 17th, 2020 edition, in Mediglia, Italy. Photograph: Luca Bruno/AFP

French president Emmanuel Macron urged employees to keep working in supermarkets, production sites and other necessary businesses amid stringent movement restrictions. “We need to keep the country running,” he said.

France reported 112 new deaths on Saturday, taking the total to 562. There have been 14,459 confirmed cases, according to the health ministry.

In the UK, the death toll rose to 233 on Saturday after NHS England said a further 53 Covid-19 patients had died. Pubs, cafes, gyms and restaurants closed for business on Friday night as the government announced an unprecedented wage-support scheme to try to prevent a wave of job losses.

China’s imported cases rise

China reported a record rise in imported coronavirus cases on Friday as expatriates returned home from the United States and Europe, sparking fears of a second wave of infections just as the country recovers from the initial outbreak.

All 41 of the new confirmed cases in China were imported from overseas, the country’s National Health Commission said on Saturday, bringing the total number of such cases to 269. There were no locally transmitted cases, for the third consecutive day.

Beijing and Shanghai were the main entry points for the returnees, many of whom are students studying abroad, according to official reports. They have come back after many campuses in the United States and Europe shut down to stem rapidly rising infection rates there.

Also returning in a flight to safety were China-based expats, as businesses begin to reopen.

While there is no reported transmission of the virus from people arriving from abroad to local communities, authorities across China are tightening public health measures as imported cases rose for a third day nationwide.

The influx of infections from overseas remains modest, but they present a potential threat to Chinese authorities keen to restart factories and get consumers to spend again.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China stood at 81,008 at the end of Friday, the health authority said. The death toll was 3,255, up by seven, a much slower rate than at the height of the crisis.

The lack of locally transmitted cases for the third day running underscored a recovery that has prompted officials to relax restrictions, even in the virus epicentre of Wuhan, which was responsible for all seven new deaths.

City officials said last week that residents could walk around their compounds, loosening restrictions that had kept them to their personal living areas.

A ranger tapes off an entrance to Bondi Beach following its closure to the public by authorities in Sydney on Saturday. Photograph: James Gourley/EPA
A ranger tapes off an entrance to Bondi Beach following its closure to the public by authorities in Sydney on Saturday. Photograph: James Gourley/EPA

Bondi Beach closes

Australian officials closed Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach on Saturday after thousands of people flocked there in recent days, defying social distancing orders to prevent the spread of coronavirus, amid an unusually warm autumn spell. Health minister Greg Hunt said the crowds on the country’s most famous strip of sand were “unacceptable” as he reported the number of infections across Australia had risen sharply.

Mr Hunt confirmed 874 cases, but Australian media later reported the tally exceeded 1,000 when updates from several states were taken into account. The death toll was seven, unchanged from a day earlier. New South Wales state police minister David Elliott announced Bondi’s closure, warning “this is going to become the new norm” if people did not comply with regulations that prohibit more than 500 people gathering at a non-essential event.

“This is about saving lives”, Mr Elliott said.“We will be closing down the type of iconic activities that unfortunately we’ve come . .. to love and adore about our lifestyle.” Mr Elliott said lifeguards who patrol the state’s many beaches will conduct head counts and, if there are more than 500 people at any one location, the beach will be closed and people ordered to move on. – PA, Reuters, Guardian