Nearly half-million infected across the world worldwide, economic toll rises

  • In this photograph taken from behind a window, doctors inside a Covid-19 intensive care unit of San Matteo Hospital, in Pavia, northern Italy, Thursday, March 26, 2020. The San Matteo hospital is where Patient 1, a 38-year-old Unilever worker named Mattia, was kept since he tested positive for Covid-19 on Feb. 21 and opened Italy’s health care crisis. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP) Claudio Furlan/LaPresse

  • German Lufthansa planes sit parked in a line at the airport in Munich, Germany, Thursday, March 26, 2020. The planes are not in use because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader) Matthias Schrader

  • A vendor waits for customers at a market during the movement control order due to the outbreak of the new coronavirus in Kajang, outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, March 26, 2020. For most people the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, but for some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian) Vincent Thian

  • FILE - In this March 19 2020 file photo, the mostly empty Champs Elysees avenue is pictured in Paris, Thursday, March 19, 2020. The confinement measures in and around Paris have had an impact in reducing the French capital's noise pollution levels. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

  • Pallbearers carry a coffin of a person who died of coronavirus at the cemetery of La Almudena in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, March 26, 2020. For some people the COVID-19 coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, but for some, it can cause severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) Manu Fernandez

  • A woman wearing a mask takes photos of cherry blossoms at the Yuyuantan Park in Beijing on Thursday, March 26, 2020. While many of the city's world-famous tourist sites, including the sprawling Forbidden City ancient palace complex, remain closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, spring weather and budding cherry blossoms are coaxing outdoors citizens who have been largely confined to home for the last two months. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) Ng Han Guan

  • Volunteer workers of a regional search and rescue disinfect an ambulance with special equipment, close to Navarra Hospital, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Thursday, March 26, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos) Alvaro Barrientos

  • Workers spray disinfectant over spectator seats at the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium in efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, March 26, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara) Dita Alangkara

  • A commuter wears face mask to protect himself from new coronavirus at a skytrain in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, March 26, 2020. Department of Rail Transport issued regulation requiring commuters to wear face marks while inside station and riding on train. First day of month long state of emergency was enforced in Thailand to allow its government to impose stricter measures to control the coronavirus that has infected hundreds of people in the Southeast Asian country. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit) Sakchai Lalit

  • Military trucks moving coffins of deceased people line up on the highway next to Ponte Oglio, near Bergamo, one of the areas worst hit by the coronavirus infection, on their way from Bergamo cemetery to a crematory in some other location as the local crematory exceeded its maximum capacity, Thursday, March 26, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) Luca Bruno

  • A man wearing a mask is silhouetted against a wall as he walks into the shade of a building Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Tokyo. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is setting up a special task force to discuss coronavirus measures and emergency responses as the government now considers the spread of the COVID-19 virus rampant in the country, officials said Thursday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Jae C. Hong

  • Passengers gather for a flight to Kuwait at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, March 26, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Michael Probst) Michael Probst

  • A woman walks through a terminal at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, March 26, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Michael Probst) Michael Probst

  • Homeless and impoverished Indians receive food at a government shelter in New Delhi, India, Thursday, March 26, 2020. Some of India's legions of poor and people suddenly thrown out of work by a nationwide stay-at-home order began receiving aid distribution Thursday, as both the public and private sector work to blunt the impact of efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo)

  • A Red Cross volunteer looks at beds set up for homeless people in the gymnasium of Uranienborg school, which is closed due to the corona eruption, in Oslo, Thursday, March 26, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix via AP) Heiko Junge

Published: 3/26/2020 6:15:38 PM
Modified: 3/26/2020 6:15:31 PM

The number of coronavirus infections closed in on a half-million worldwide Thursday, with both Italy and the U.S. on track to surpass China, and a record-shattering 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in a single week in a stark demonstration of the damage to the world’s biggest economy.

Health care systems in Europe and New York buckled under the strain, with Spain’s death toll climbing to more than 4,000.

In the U.S., an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package to help businesses, hospitals and ordinary Americans make it through the crisis cleared the Senate and is expected to be voted on in the House on Friday. The plan would dispense checks of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.

At least 2.8 billion people, or more than one-third of the Earth’s population, are under severe travel restrictions. But the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, scolded world leaders for wasting precious time in the fight against the virus that has already killed more than 22,000 people and infected over 480,000, thrown millions out of work and ravaged the world economy.

“The time to act was actually more than a month ago or two months ago,” he said Wednesday. ”We squandered the first window of opportunity. ... This is a second opportunity, which we should not squander and do everything to suppress and control this virus.”

In India, where the country’s 1.3 billion people are under orders to stay at home, untold numbers of them are now out of work, and many families have been left struggling to eat.

“Our first concern is food, not the virus,” said Suresh Kumar, 60, a bicycle rickshaw rider in New Delhi. He said he has a family of six who rely on his daily earnings of just 300 rupees, or about $4. “I don’t know how I will manage.”

South Africa planned to lock down at midnight. The country recorded more than 700 cases of CVOID-19, the highest on the continent.

In the United States, where deaths passed 1,050 and about 70,000 people were infected, the damage from the widespread economic shutdown was made plain when the number of people applying for unemployment benefits last week was nearly five times the old record, set in 1982.

A political battle, meanwhile, raged between those demanding urgent action for a long siege against the pandemic, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and President Donald Trump.

Trump has expressed hope churches could return to normal by Easter on April 12, and grumbled that “our country wasn’t built to be shut down” — apparently concerned that the outbreak’s devastating effects on financial markets and employment will harm his re-election chances. Democrats say Trump is putting the economy ahead of the health and safety of Americans.

“I’d like to say, let’s get back to work next Friday,” said Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. ”That’d be wonderful. But it can’t be arbitrary.”

In Brazil, the country’s governors are defying President Jair Bolsonaro over his call to reopen schools and businesses, dismissing his argument that the “cure” of widespread shutdowns is worse than the disease. As of Thursday, the country had more than 2,500 cases and 59 deaths.

New York has emerged as a virus hotspot. The city’s mammoth convention center is being turned into a hospital. The state recorded more than 350 deaths.

Spain has become the country in Europe where the outbreak is spreading the fastest. On Thursday, the Health Ministry reported reported nearly 8,600 new infections and 655 deaths, bringing the total cases to over 56,000 and more than 4,000 fatalities — second only to Italy’s death toll of about 7,500.

Health Minister Salvador Illa sought to assure Spaniards that government measures to slow the virus were working, telling Parliament that the rises had been smaller than in previous days and “indicate a changing trend that brings us to think that we are entering a phase of stabilization.”

In Italy, doctors and nurses begged the government to provide more masks, gloves and goggles and urged the public to understand how important onerous social distancing measures really are. Scientists say stopping just one person from getting the virus means scores of others will not become infected down the road.

“Help us help you,” Dr. Francesca De Gennaro, who heads a small medical clinic in Italy’s hard-hit Bergamo region, wrote in an open letter.

The rate of increase in Italy has slowed slightly, noted Dr. Hans Kluge, the head of the WHO’s European office. He said officials hope to soon figure out whether lockdown measures in numerous countries have worked.

Germany has had a high number of infections at more than 39,000 people, but just 222 deaths — which has widely been attributed to early and aggressive testing, among other factors.

On Thursday, Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s Robert Koch disease control center, said the country now has the ability to test 500,000 people a week, perhaps the greatest capacity in the world.

European Union leaders were holding their third summit in three weeks on the virus to manage the havoc it is wreaking on their 27 economies. As the number of deaths in Europe soared past 12,000, Spain extended a state of emergency that will allow it to impose broader lockdowns, while French President Emmanuel Macron launched “Operation Resilience,” a military-backed response to the crisis.

France began evacuating infected citizens from the northeastern hotspot of Alsace using a special high-speed train.

Britain ordered 10,000 ventilators, working with engineers from Dyson. The government wants to increase its supply of the breathing machines from 8,000 to 30,000.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

So far, more than 115,000 people have recovered from the virus, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

China’s cases have slowed, with only 67 new cases reported, all recent arrivals.

The leaders of the Group of 20 largest economies held a special video conference to better coordinate a response to the outbreak, amid criticism that the world’s wealthiest countries have not taken cohesive action. The conference was chaired by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

___

Long reported from Washington, Rising reported from Berlin. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.


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