Death toll in Italy overtakes China’s for highest globally
News comes as original epicenter, Wuhan, reports no new virus infections
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.