Italy’s toll set to overtake China’s as deadliest day sees 475 fatalities
Italy suffered its deadliest day yet in the coronavirus outbreak yesterday and the country is poised to overtake China as the world’s worst affected country, as Europe tightened a lockdown affecting some 250m people.
In all, 475 people died in the country yesterday taking the overall death toll to 2,978 from almost 36,000 cases. Some 4,000 have recovered, with 2,250 in intensive care.
With an economic and social shutdown deepening across Europe, Angela Merkel last night described the coronavirus crisis as “the biggest challenge since the second world war”.
In a rare TV address to the nation, Merkel appealed to citizens to help protect each other from the virus by restricting social interactions. All state-run attempts to curb Covid-19 would prove futile unless individuals changed behaviour, she said.
“This is serious, so take it seriously,” she said last night. “Since German reunification – no, since the second world war – there has been no challenge to our country that will require us to act in such mutual solidarity.”
Merkel said her government was focused on “slowing down the spread of the virus, to stretch it out over months and thus win time”.
Among developments yesterday:
• The US and Canada are to temporarily shut the world’s longest land border to non-essential traffic.
• The EU accused Russian media of a “significant disinformation campaign” against the west to worsen the impact of the coronavirus.
• The head of Germany’s public health agency, Lothar Wieler, said the pandemic was likely to take about two years to run its course and will infect 60%-70% of the global population.
• Japan’s deputy prime minister, Tarō Asō, said holding the Tokyo Olympics “would not make sense” if countries could not send their athletes.
• Iran reported 147 more deaths, its single biggest one-day jump, bringing the toll to 1,135 people nationwide.
Describing Covid-19 as “an enemy against humanity”, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director general, said Africa must “wake up and prepare”. Countries around the world must take a comprehensive approach, he said. “Countries must isolate, test, treat and trace,” Tedros said, adding that strategy “must be the backbone of the response in every country”.
Coronavirus has infected more than 214,000 people worldwide and killed more than 8,700, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. More than 82,000 have recovered.
Outside China, where the virus originated, two-thirds of all cases and three-quarters of all deaths are in Europe, which has now recorded more than 3,800 deaths. Belgium, which has reported 1,085 cases of Covid-19 and 10 deaths, yesterday became the latest EU state to confine its citizens, with all shops except supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and bookstores closing at midday and employees expected to work from home unless social distancing is guaranteed at work.
“These decisions were not taken lightly, and were taken because we are obliged to by the evolving situation,” said the prime minister, Sophie Wilmès. “Success in our struggle against Covid-19 is inextricably linked to the efforts of each person.”
In Germany, which has reported 12,000 infections and 28 deaths, nonessential businesses and shops have shut, religious gatherings are banned and holiday travel has been halted.
In France, where the daily update of coronavirus cases has risen to 7,730, with 175 deaths, residents who leave home must now carry with them a form declaring that they are outside for one of five permitted reasons, including to shop, work or visit the doctor.
More than 100,000 police are enforcing the regulations, with the fine for people flouting them raised to €135 (£124). The health minister, Olivier Véran, said the country could hope to start seeing a slowdown of infections in eight to 12 days.
Javier Marion, director of health in the Aragon region of Spain, broke down in tears during a news conference, while the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, told the 28 MPs and five ministers in the near-empty 350-seat parliament the nation needed to rally in a “war” against the virus.
Spain, which has reported nearly 14,000 cases and 623 deaths, is – like Italy and France – in near-total lockdown, and the consequences for the economy would be grave unless “major and irreparable damage” could be averted, Sánchez said.
“We have never lived through anything like this,” he said.
‘This is serious, so take it seriously. Since the second world war there has been no challenge so large to our country’