Today in coronavirus news: Italy struggles; world under lockdown
Italy is the world's worst affected country after China, with nearly 3,000 deaths. Hospitals in the European country are struggling to make room for the onslaught of coronavirus patients. Retired health workers are being urged to return to work and help colleagues overwhelmed by the crisis.
Italy, which has been under lockdown for almost two weeks, is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic with nearly 3,000 deaths and over 35,000 confirmed cases. Hospitals in the country are struggling to make room for the onslaught of coronavirus patients.
This comes as hundreds of millions of people are facing a world turned upside down by unprecedented emergency measures against Covid-19 that is killing the old and vulnerable and threatening prolonged economic misery.
Situation in Italy
Italy is the world's worst affected country after China, where the virus originated last year. The death toll in the European country on Wednesday soared by 475, the largest increase in numerical terms since the outbreak first came to light on February 21.
Italy was the first Western country to impose severe restrictions on movement to contain the illness. But despite the curbs, the disease is still spreading and hospitals in the north are at breaking point.
The northern region of Lombardy, on the frontline of the battle against the respiratory pandemic, asked recently retired health workers to return to work and help colleagues overwhelmed by the crisis.
"I make a heartfelt appeal to all the doctors, nurses and medical personnel who have retired in the last two years...to help us in this emergency," regional Governor Attilio Fontana told a news conference.
While many Italian cities have been largely empty over the past week, photographs have circulated on social media of public transport filling up in the financial capital Milan, suggesting that some people are going back to work.
Lombardy, like many regions, is rushing to build makeshift hospitals to add badly needed intensive-care units. However, the move is being complicated by the fact that doctors, nurses and hospital porters are themselves falling sick. Some have died.
The Gimbe Foundation research group, using data supplied by the national health authority, said that between March 11-17, some 2,529 health workers had been diagnosed with coronavirus -- 8.3% of the national total of coronavirus cases.
Officials warned that if the incidence of new cases did not slow in the coming days, they might extend the lockdown already in place, both in terms of the types of restrictions and how long they will continue.
In successive decrees earlier this month, the government ordered restaurants, bars and most shops to close until March 25. In addition, it shut schools and universities and told everyone to stay home unless absolutely essential until April 3.
Since the restrictions were most recently ramped up on March 12, the number of deaths has more than tripled.
City Hall is lit up tonight in solidarity with our friends in Italy, who are facing incredible loss and hardship in the face of COVID-19, along with countries throughout the world.— London Breed (@LondonBreed) March 19, 2020
Now more than ever we're united in this common cause, committed to facing this challenge together. pic.twitter.com/2q7IPEdB1p
Italy. 2020.— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) March 19, 2020
What is happening in the world?
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned that the crisis could last six months as his nation became the latest to restrict gatherings and overseas travel. "This is a once-in-a-hundred-year type event," he said.
The fast-spreading disease that jumped from animals to humans in China has now infected over 212,000 people and caused 8,700 deaths in 164 nations, triggering emergency lockdowns and injections of cash unseen since World War Two.
"We have never lived through anything like this," Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told a Parliament chamber nearly empty with more than 90% of lawmakers staying away and a masked and gloved cleaner wiping handrails between speeches. Spain now has 598 dead and 13,716 infections.
France also reported a spike in deaths -- rising by 89, or 51%, to a total of 264 in 24 hours.
In the UK, the number of dead has reached 104. Germany has 12 deaths and 8,198 cases, while Belgium has 14 deaths and 1,486 cases.
Around the world, rich and poor alike saw lives turned upside down as events were cancelled, shops stripped, workplaces emptied, streets deserted, schools shut and travel minimized.
The crisis has created a wave of solidarity in some countries, with neighbours, families and colleagues coming together to look after the most needy, including dropping supplies at the doors of those forced to stay inside.
In several countries, stores began reserving special times for elderly shoppers to help keep the most vulnerable away from those who might infect them.
The United States, which closed its border with Canada except for essential travel, was sending its two military hospital ships - Comfort and Mercy - to New York's harbor and the West Coast, while the Swedish military is setting up a field hospital near Stockholm.
US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the country was on wartime footing and invoked special powers through the Defence Production Act to rapidly expand manufacturing of masks and protective equipment in short supply.
In Iraq, total deaths rose to 12 with over 164 confirmed cases. In Iran -- the Middle Eastern epicentre of the pandemic -- 1,135 people died and 17,161 cases of infection were reported.
In India, the number of people infected with the highly contagious Covid-19 increased to 169, PTI reported citing the Ministry of Health. This number includes three who have died.
LONG RECESSION OR BOUNCE BACK?
Spooked by a seemingly inevitable global recession, rich nations are unleashing billions of dollars in stimulus to bolster economies, aid health services, provide loans to tottering businesses and help individuals with mortgages and other routine payments.
Extra cash from governments and central banks failed to calm markets: Stocks and oil prices reeled again, with European shares down nearly 5% to approach seven-year lows and major US indexes off by 9% and down 30% from highs reached last month.
Taking their cue from the waning of the coronavirus in China, where it emerged late last year, optimists predict a bounce back once the epidemic also passes its peak elsewhere - hoped to be within months. Pessimists are factoring in the possibility of recurring outbreaks and years of pain, some even whispering comparisons with the Great Depression of the 1930s.
On the ground, millions of workers fear for their jobs.
In the airline industry, tens of thousands have already been laid off or put on unpaid leave.
The crisis has exacerbated some long-running geopolitical frictions. A European Union document accused Russian media of stoking panic in the West via misinformation over the disease, while China withdrew credentials of American journalists at three US newspapers in a row in part over coverage of the coronavirus.
Among the latest cultural events to be cancelled was the 50th anniversary of Britain's Glastonbury music festival.
With most major sports events now cancelled, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was under increasing pressure to reconsider the summer Games in Japan.