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Spanish coronavirus deaths slow as world nears 500,000 cases

26 Mar 2020 The Guardian

The rate of coronavirus deaths in Spain has slowed for the first time in a week, and the United States has passed the largest stimulus package in its history, as the global number of confirmed coronavirus cases approached half a million.

Spain recorded 655 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total there to 4,089, the health ministry said on Thursday. The number of confirmed cases in Spain stood at 56,188.

The numbers offer a glimmer of hope a day after the country recorded the world’s highest one-day national death toll of the pandemic to date – 738 – and its total number of deaths eclipsed that of China.

Spain’s health minister, Salvador Illa, said the data should be read with caution but could mean Spain had entered a “phase of stablisation”. He said: “The number of reported cases could be reaching its peak.”

He added: “Nobody knows exactly when we’ll reach the end … we still have many difficult weeks ahead.”

Hours earlier, the Spanish parliament approved extending the country’s near total lockdown to 11 April.

Italy remains the hardest-hit country with 7,503 deaths. For four consecutive days the country’s infection rate had slowed, a trend the World Health Organization’s Europe director, Hans Kluge, described as encouraging.

Other countries are bracing for a rapid growth in cases, and an estimated 1.7 billion people have been ordered to remain in their homes.

In Hong Kong and Japan there are concerns about a possible fresh wave of coronavirus cases. The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, has asked residents to stay at home “at all costs” to avoid an “explosion” of infections.

Russia announced on Thursday it would close all restaurants, bars, parks and non-essential shops, as the number of confirmed cases there rose to 840. Three people have died, according to official data.

“The growth is high, a serious situation is developing,” Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, told Vladimir Putin in comments reported on the Kremlin website. He said the true number of cases was likely to be higher than what was being reported as many sick people were isolated at home and had not asked for medical care.

Putin has delayed a vote on constitutional amendments that would allow him to remain in the Kremlin until 2036, and he announced that next week would be a national holiday and urged Russians to stay at home. The government has also halted all international air traffic, both for airlines and charter flights, except for flights repatriating Russian citizens.

In Brazil, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called for the current leader, Jair Bolsonaro, to resign or be impeached, amid growing criticism of his response to coronavirus, which has so far claimed at least 59 lives in Brazil and infected more than 2,500 people. Bolsonaro has repeatedly dismissed the illness as a fantasy and media “hysteria”.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the time to act had been a month or two ago. “We squandered the first window of opportunity … this is a second opportunity, which we should not squander,” he said.

Q&A How can I protect myself and others from the coronavirus outbreak? Show Hide

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers

Many countries are now enforcing or recommending curfews or lockdowns. Check with your local authorities for up-to-date information about the situation in your area. 

In the UK, NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

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The World Trade Organization said the economic downturn and job losses resulting from the pandemic could be worse than the 2008 recession. It said its economists expected “a very sharp decline in trade”.

The economist Nouriel Roubini has described the financial shock from the virus as the fastest and deepest in history.

In the US, where more than 1,000 people have died and there are more than 55,000 confirmed cases, the Senate passed a $2tn emergency relief package, the biggest rescue deal of its kind in the country’s history.

“This is a strange and evil disease,” said the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, before the vote. “When we pass this bill, instead of hugging each other we’ll wave from a distance.”

While the bulk of the funds will go to corporations, the bill will expand unemployment insurance and provide up to $1,200 in direct relief for American adults, a $367bn fund for small businesses and $130bn for hospitals.

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, tried to change the language on the pandemic, arguing to call it the “Wuhan virus” in a joint statement with other G7 members. His push was rejected, CNN reported.

New York has emerged as a virus hotspot with infections doubling every few days, according to the state governor, Andrew Cuomo. The virus has claimed 280 lives across the state.

In China, once the centre of the crisis, no new locally transmitted cases were reported for a second day in a row. The number of cases in the country rose by 67, all of which were attributed to travellers arriving from abroad.

In other developments:

  • Afghanistan reported five new cases in last 24 hours, bringing the total to 84, including four members of Nato forces and two foreign diplomats.

  • The UK government said Prince Charles did not get preferential treatment by getting a coronavirus test before many NHS workers.

  • Iran’s health ministry said the country’s death toll from the virus had increased by 157 in the last 24 hours to 2,234, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

  • Lebanon, which has recorded 333 cases of coronavirus and six deaths, is to extend a countrywide lockdown by two weeks, until 12 April, Reuters reported.


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