Starting from Italy to India to the United States (U.S.), governments rolled out tougher measures to halt the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic as global cases surged past 340,408 yesterday and Asia braced for a possible second wave of infections.

Nearly one billion people are already confined to their homes around the world as countries race to contain the ballooning outbreak by imposing unprecedented lockdown measures, shutting shops and businesses and sealing borders.

The pandemic has sparked fears of a global recession, prompting governments to unleash gigantic emergency measures to avoid an economic meltdown.

About 14,573 people have died from the virus worldwide, with the situation increasingly grim in Italy, the new epicentre of the disease which first emerged in central China late last year before marching across the globe.

Countries in Asia now worry infections could once again mount on their shores as travellers return from badly-hit parts of Europe, a continent under siege by the pandemic, with more than 150,000 declared cases.

The death toll from the outbreak in Italy has risen by 651 to 5,476, officials said yesterday, an increase of 13.5% but down on Saturday’s figure when some 793 people died.

The total number of cases in Italy rose to 59,138 from a previous 53,578, an increase of 10.4%, the Civil Protection Agency said — the lowest rise in percentage terms since the contagion came to light on Feb. 21.

Of those originally infected nationwide, 7,024 had fully recovered on Sunday compared to 6,072 the day before. There were 3,009 people in intensive care against a previous 2,857.

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The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy remained in a critical situation, with 3,456 deaths and 27,206 cases against a previously given 3,095 and 25,515 respectively.

Italy has announced the closure of all non-essential businesses as it faced what its Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called the country’s gravest moment since the Second World War.

“The decision taken by the government is to close down all productive activity throughout the territory that is not strictly necessary, crucial, and indispensable, to guarantee us essential goods and services,” Conte said.

The rate at which Covid-19 is spreading around the world continued to accelerate, growing by more 100,000 in the past four days. Yesterday, Afghanistan announced its first death from the virus, Gaza announced its first two cases and Canadian infections grew by 50%.

The death toll in Spain climbed past 1,700 people, exceeding the official figures of more than 1,600 killed in Iran. Australia started curbing commercial activity and more than one billion Indians were asked to observe a one-day curfew.

“Unfortunately, the worst is to come,” the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro S├ínchez said. “We have yet to feel the impact of the hardest, most damaging wave, one that will test the limits of our moral and material capacity, as well as our spirit as a society.”

A makeshift hospital has been set up in a conference centre in the capital Madrid, a city that is bearing some of the highest infection rates.

The hospital will be fitted with 5,500 beds, making it the biggest facility of its kind in Europe. Its director, Antonio Zapatero, told El Mundo newspaper that 300 people will be move there this weekend.

But the centre of the crisis was Italy, where health officials were stony-faced as they read out the latest update that more than 6,500 people were being confirmed to have the virus each day.

The average age of Italians dying is 78.5 and the country’s top medical expert, Silvio Brusaferro, urged older people to stay indoors and others to observe strict social distancing guidelines.

“If you do not follow all the (government) measures, you make everything more difficult,” the National health institute (ISS) chief said. “If you do, we can make this outbreak slow down.”

Police squads in Rome were checking documents and fining those outside without a valid excuse. Those who were out shopping were forced to wait in line at the entrance to make sure the store was filled with only a handful of people at a time. Joggers were asked to limit their runs to laps around the block.

People out for a walk were fined if they broke the rules and wandered into a park or stopped to take pictures of historic scenes of a city without any people.

India’s confirmed coronavirus cases grew to 341 yesterday and the government ordered lockdowns in 75 districts across the country to contain the spread. Delhi was among several cities to ban all gatherings in the capital and close all but non-essential businesses.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the curfew observed yesterday – marked with a raucous applause and banging of pots at 5pm to thank emergency service workers – was important but a long fight lay ahead.

The Australian government ordered the closure of restaurants, cinemas and pubs – the latter sparking a run on liquor stores – but said schools would remain open for now, though some states have already ordered students not to go to class. South Australia and Western Australia said they would close their borders to other states this week.

China, which recorded its first new domestic case for four days, still has the most cases with 81,346, according to Johns Hopkins University but the United States has the third-highest number of cases.

China reported 46 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, while the city of Wuhan, the pandemic’s ground zero, announced it would be loosening a two-month lockdown by gradually resuming public transportation and allowing healthy people to resume work.

It was the fourth day in a row with an increase in Chinese cases, all but one of which was imported from overseas.

But in a sign of easing lockdown measures, residents living in and outside Wuhan will be allowed to travel into the city to resume work if they have a green health code issued by the government and normal body temperature, state-media CCTV News reported on Sunday. It cited the city’s epidemic prevention and control command center.

The U.S. has 85 million people subject to stay-at-home orders after New Jersey on Saturday joined New York, Connecticut, Illinois and California in ordering people to stay inside. The US saw cases jump sharply again on Saturday and it now has a total of 26,747 and 340 deaths.

With concerns mounting about the impact of the outbreak on the world’s number one economy, Congressional leaders and White House officials were in talks about launching a $1tn stimulus package.

In Pakistan, the entire province of Sindh, which includes the country’s largest city Karachi, is going into lockdown from midnight for two weeks in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.


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