Coronavirus: Italy and Spain record highest single-day death tolls

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German citizens could be confined to their homes from Monday if people do not act responsibly

Italy and Spain have both reported their biggest single-day death tolls from the coronavirus as Germany’s 83 million citizens were warned they would be confined to their homes on Monday if they fail to behave responsibly this weekend.

As Europe’s governments ramp up already draconian restrictions to curb the coronavirus, authorities in Rome on Friday announced 5,986 new cases and a record 627 new deaths, raising the totals to 47,021 infections and 4,032 fatalities.

In Spain, the death toll rose to 1,002, a highest-ever increase of 235 in 24 hours. The latest statistics showed 19,980 confirmed cases across the country, more than a third in Madrid. Army specialists are to help disinfect care homes after the virus claimed more than 50 lives at elderly care facilities across the region.

The army, already deployed in northern Italy to help move bodies as funeral services are overwhelmed, will also be used to help police the lockdown in Lombardy, regional president Attilio Fontana said. “The request to use the army is accepted and 114 soldiers will be on the ground,” Fontana said. “It is not enough, but it’s positive.”

Helge Braun, Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, warned that a near-total lockdown – as in force in Italy, Spain and France – could soon be necessary in Germany. “We will look at the behaviour of the people this weekend,” Braun told Spiegel magazine.

“Saturday is a decisive day, and we will keep a close eye on that.” The chancellor would hold a conference call with state premiers on Sunday, he said.

The epidemic has infected more than 255,000 people worldwide and killed more than 10,400, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Italy on Thursday overtook China as the centre of the biggest outbreak, with authorities in Beijing on Friday reporting no new cases of domestic transmission for the second day running.

Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force response coordinator, said the virus appears to be less deadly for younger people but warned that data from Italy indicated the fatality rate is twice as high for men across all age groups. “No one is immune,” she said. “We know it’s highly contagious to everyone.” Mexico and the US announced plans to sharply limit travel over their busy shared border as part of efforts to control the outbreak.

As Spanish health authorities warned the peak of the crisis was still a few days away, frontline care workers described beleaguered hospitals operating near capacity and struggling with severe shortages of protective gear such as masks and gloves.

“The current situation in hospitals in Madrid is critical,” said Ángela Hernández of the Association of Doctors and Professionals in Madrid. “The healthcare system is in a state of alarm.” Spain’s health minister has promised reinforcements, including medical students and recently retired physicians.

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How do I know if I have coronavirus and what happens next? – video explainer
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Coronavirus updates

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In the UK all cafes, pubs, restaurants, gyms and other similar venues were ordered to close from Friday evening for the foreseeable future, and the government followed some other European countries in saying that it would pay a large proportion of workers’ wages.

Belgium, which entered lockdown on Wednesday, on Friday reported its biggest daily rise in number of deaths since the beginning of the epidemic. Sixteen more people had died from the virus, the health ministry said, bringing the total to 37, with more than 2,000 cases.

As in many European countries, schools, kindergartens, bars, nightclubs and non-essential shops have been closed in most parts of Germany and people urged to avoid unnecessary social contact in a bid to avoid a full-scale lockdown.

But people are still socialising outside, some even organising “corona parties”. The leaders of Germany’s states warned mandatory confinement would be next. “Unless everyone fundamentally changes their behaviour, we won’t avoid tougher measures and sanctions,” said the Baden-Württemberg premier, Winfried Kretschmann.

The country’s largest state, Bavaria, led the way on Friday, instituting a lockdown from midnight. “We are not locking Bavarians in but we are winding down public life almost completely,” the state premier, Markus Söder, said.

Beyond Europe, more than 1.2 million Iranians ignored pleas by the government, clerics and local authorities to stay at home, taking to the country’s roads at the start of Iranian new year. Iran on Friday reported 149 new deaths, making a total of 1,433 and 19,644 confirmed cases in all. South Africa said its confirmed cases had risen to 202, the most in the sub-Saharan region, while Tunisia announced a lockdown.

In the US, the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, ordered all workers in non-essential businesses to stay home and banned gatherings statewide, while California’s population of 40 million experienced their first day under lockdown.

Gavin Newsom, the governor of the country’s most populous state, earlier wrote to Donald Trump to warn that 25.5 million Californians, roughly 56% of its population, could contract the virus.

President Trump said US authorities were aiming to fast-track the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine – synthetic forms of quinine, used to treat malaria for centuries – for use as a coronavirus treatment.

Both Italy and France have said this week that they will extend their restrictions and may tighten them further as the number of deaths on the continent continues to rise.

In Austria, which has reported more than 2,200 coronavirus cases and six deaths, the chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said on Friday that the signs were encouraging, but the country must continue to “stick with the measures” it had taken earlier. “Hold tight,” Kurz said. “We must not slow down.”

In France, which on Friday reported 12,612 cases 450 deaths, President Emmanuel Macron said the country was only at the beginning of the crisis. “We are right at the start,” Macron said. “We have taken exceptional measures to absorb this first wave, but we’ve started a race against the virus. We must react strongly, and reorganise ourselves continually. We need to anticipate.”

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On Friday, authorities reminded people that exercise should be confined to 20-30 minutes in close proximity to home and alone, adding that they should only leave home once a day, choosing between, for example, shopping and exercise.

Police would step up security checks in Paris train stations from Friday, a spokesman said, as the country further escalated its lockdown measures. Like anyone else in France stopped by police without documentation to justify their presence outside their homes, rail passengers will face a fine of €135 (£123). The mayor of Nice imposed a curfew starting from 8pm local time, going a step further than the national lockdown.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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