Death toll in Italy over­takes China’s for high­est glob­ally

News comes as orig­i­nal epi­cen­ter, Wuhan, re­ports no new virus in­fec­tions

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - Nation&world - BY NI­COLE WIN­FIELD AND TIM SUL­LI­VAN

ROME — Italy’s death toll from the coro­n­avirus out­break eclipsed China’s on Thurs­day as the scourge ex­tended its march across the West, where the United States and other coun­tries in­creas­ingly en­listed the mil­i­tary and im­pro­vised at ev­ery turn to get ready for the on­slaught of pa­tients.

In the U.S., the Army read­ied mobile mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals for de­ploy­ment in ma­jor cities. In Madrid, a four-star ho­tel was turned into a hos­pi­tal. Med­i­cal cen­ters around the United States set up drive-thru test­ing sites that drew long lines of mo­torists wait­ing for nurses to swab their nos­trils.

The out­break also ap­peared to be open­ing an alarm­ing new front in Africa, where health care in many coun­tries is al­ready in sorry shape.

At the United Na­tions in New York, Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res said the world is “at war with a virus” and warned that “a global re­ces­sion, per­haps of record di­men­sions, is a near cer­tainty.”

“If we let the virus spread like wild­fire — es­pe­cially in the most vul­ner­a­ble re­gions of the world — it would kill mil­lions of peo­ple,” he said.

Italy, with 60 mil­lion cit­i­zens, recorded a to­tal of at least 3,405 deaths, or roughly 150 more than in China

— a coun­try with a pop­u­la­tion over 20 times larger. At the same time Italy reached its bleak mile­stone, Wuhan, the Chi­nese city where the coro­n­avirus first emerged three months ago, recorded no new in­fec­tions, a sign that the com­mu­nist coun­try’s dra­co­nian lock­downs had worked.

In a mea­sure of how the for­tunes of East and West have shifted, New York of­fi­cials were sent to China to buy more ven­ti­la­tors. And in Italy, the leader of a del­e­ga­tion from the Chi­nese Red Cross openly cas­ti­gated Ital­ians for fail­ing to take the coun­try’s na­tional lock­down se­ri­ously.

On a visit to the hard-hit city of Mi­lan, Sun Shuopeng said he was shocked to see so many peo­ple walk­ing around, us­ing pub­lic trans­porta­tion and eat­ing out in ho­tels.

“Right now we need to stop all eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and we need to stop the mo­bil­ity of peo­ple,” he said. “All peo­ple should be stay­ing at home in quar­an­tine.”

The U.S. death toll rose to 168, pri­mar­ily el­derly peo­ple. Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, which has been tal­ly­ing the virus’ spread around the world, said the U.S. had more than 11,000 cases.

World­wide the death toll crept to­ward 10,000 and the to­tal num­ber of in­fec­tions topped 220,000, in­clud­ing nearly 85,000 peo­ple who have re­cov­ered.

French Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe pleaded with peo­ple to keep their dis­tance from one another to

avoid spread­ing the virus, even as the cri­sis pushed them to seek com­fort.

“When you love some­one, you should avoid tak­ing them in your arms,” he said in Par­lia­ment.

Health au­thor­i­ties have cited a va­ri­ety of rea­sons for Italy’s high toll, key among them its large pop­u­la­tion of el­derly peo­ple, who are par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions from the virus. Italy has the world’s sec­on­dold­est pop­u­la­tion, and the vast ma­jor­ity of its dead — 87% — were over 70.

Jonas Sch­midt-Chan­a­sit, a vi­rol­o­gist at Ger­many’s Bern­hard Nocht In­sti­tute for Trop­i­cal Medicine, said Italy’s high death rate could be ex­plained in part by the al­most to­tal break­down of the health sys­tem in the hard-hit north­ern part of the coun­try.

In the U.S., Army of­fi­cials an­nounced plans to de­ploy two hos­pi­tals, prob­a­bly to Seat­tle and New York City. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said ear­lier this week that he would send a Navy hos­pi­tal ship to the West Coast as well as one to New York City. With more than 4,000 cases, far more than any other state, New York is rapidly be­com­ing a U.S. epi­cen­ter of the pan­demic.

On Thurs­day, the U.S. State Depart­ment warned Amer­i­cans in the strongest terms yet not to travel abroad un­der any cir­cum­stances.


The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment, crit­i­cized as slow to re­act to the virus, shifted gears and drew up leg­is­la­tion giv­ing it­self new pow­ers to de­tain peo­ple and re­strict gath­er­ings. The bill is ex­pected to be ap­proved by Par­lia­ment next week.

In China, Thurs­day marked the first time since Jan. 20 that the locked­down city of Wuhan, where thou­sands once lay sick or dy­ing in hur­riedly con­structed hos­pi­tals, re­ported no new lo­cally trans­mit­ted cases. Au­thor­i­ties said all 34 new cases recorded over the pre­vi­ous day had come from abroad.

“To­day, we have seen the dawn af­ter so many days of hard ef­fort,” said Jiao Yahui, a se­nior in­spec­tor at the Na­tional Health Com­mis­sion.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion warned that the virus is spread­ing quickly in Africa, from about five coun­tries a week and a half ago to 35 of the con­ti­nent’s 54 na­tions — an “ex­tremely rapid evo­lu­tion,” said WHO’s Africa chief, Dr. Mat­shidiso Moeti.

Chad and Niger an­nounced their first cases Thurs­day. The first case in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa was an­nounced Feb. 28, less than three weeks ago.

Many African na­tions were tak­ing their cue from China and other coun­tries by sharply re­strict­ing travel. On Thurs­day, Sene­gal closed its airspace. An­gola and Cameroon shut air, land and sea bor­ders. Rwanda blocked all com­mer­cial flights for a month. The is­land na­tion of Mau­ri­tius closed its bor­der af­ter an­nounc­ing its first case.

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment said Thurs­day the Canada-U.S. bor­der will be closed to all non-es­sen­tial travel in both di­rec­tions on Fri­day night.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau also said it will take “weeks to months” for so­cial-dis­tanc­ing mea­sures in his coun­try to be lifted amid the pan­demic.

Trudeau said his gov­ern­ment is fol­low­ing the ad­vice of health ex­perts and won’t lift re­stric­tions on pub­lic ac­tiv­i­ties and move­ments in Canada un­til it is safe to do so. He made his comments in front of his res­i­dence where he is self-iso­lat­ing af­ter his wife tested pos­i­tive for the virus.

Cana­dian For­eign Min­is­ter François­Philippe Champagne is also self iso­lat­ing at home and is be­ing tested for the virus af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing flu-like symp­toms af­ter trav­el­ing. He said he ex­pects the re­sults of his test very shortly.

Rus­sian state me­dia and news out­lets sup­port­ing Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin are wag­ing a fake news cam­paign aimed at un­der­min­ing pub­lic con­fi­dence in the abil­ity of Euro­pean health care sys­tems to cope with the coro­n­avirus, ac­cord­ing to a Euro­pean Union anal­y­sis.

The re­port, seen by The As­so­ci­ated Press, said that EU ex­perts noted nearly 80 in­stances of virus-re­lated dis­in­for­ma­tion in about the last two months, in­clud­ing claims that the COVID-19 virus was a West­ern-made bi­o­log­i­cal weapon.

The EU ex­perts pointed the fin­ger at news out­lets Rus­sia To­day, Sput­nik, Ori­en­tal Re­view, Geopo­lit­ica and oth­ers. As ex­am­ples of false re­ports, they cited sto­ries say­ing COVID-19 was less harm­ful than the flu, de­vel­oped by the United States, brought into Europe by mi­grants or ex­ac­er­bated by tak­ing ibupro­fen to re­lieve symp­toms.


A sign above a near-empty street in Rome on Thurs­day said in Ital­ian: “Emer­gency Coro­n­avirus limit your move­ments.” Italy now has at least 3,405 deaths from the coro­n­avirus, about 150 more than in China.


Med­i­cal per­son­nel worked Thurs­day in a hos­pi­tal in Bres­cia, Italy. One ex­pert says Italy’s high death rate may re­flect a break­down of the health sys­tem in the coun­try’s north.

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