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More nations in lockdown as pandemic speeds up

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The accelerating coronavirus pandemic has seen the last 100,000 cases confirmed in just four days, whereas the first 100,000 took 67 days, with the World Health Organisation calling for more aggressive action to combat its spread.

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There are now around 350,000 Covid-19 infections worldwide, and 15,000 deaths, since the outbreak first erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

While it took more than two months for the virus to infect the first 100,000, it took only 11 days to hit 200,000, and four days for the third.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on countries to take strong, co-ordinated action.

“The pandemic is accelerating … but we’re not prisoners to statistics, we are not helpless bystanders,” he said.

“We can change the trajectory of this pandemic.

“To win, we need to attack the coronavirus with aggressive and targeted tactics – testing every suspected COVID-19 case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case, and tracing and quarantining every close contact.”

More than one-fifth of the world’s population has now been ordered or urged to stay in their homes at the start of what could be a pivotal week in the battle to contain the coronavirus in Europe and the US.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered Britons to stay home, closed non-essential shops and told people not to meet friends or family, warning those who flout the rules face fines.

UK deaths from the virus jumped to 335 on Monday as the government said the military would help ship millions of items of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks to healthcare workers who have complained of shortages.

Johnson said people would only be allowed to leave their homes to shop for basic necessities, exercise, for a medical need, to provide care or travelling to and from work where absolutely necessary.

“That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home,” he said, adding that people should not meet friends or family members who do not live in their home.

“If you don’t follow the rules, the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings,” he warned.

The new measures would be reviewed in three weeks, and relaxed if possible.

A lockdown has taken effect in New York City, amid worries the city of 8.4 million is becoming one of the world’s biggest hotspots.

Nearly 10,000 people have tested positive in the city, and almost 100 have died.

The governor announced plans to convert a huge New York City convention centre into a hospital with 1000 beds.

Meanwhile, the mayor warned that the city’s hospitals are just 10 days away from shortages in basic supplies needed to protect health care workers and patients alike.

South Africa will go into a nationwide lockdown for 21 days starting on Thursday after its number of cases rose to 402.

South Africa followed Rwanda and Tunisia, with Madagascar also locking down its two largest cities.

South Africa’s coronavirus cases jumped by 47 per cent on Monday from the day before with 128 new cases, increasing worries of exponential growth and making it the country with the most cases in Africa, taking over from Egypt.

Zimbabwe and Nigeria reported their first virus-related deaths Monday. Nigeria, which has a population of 100 million people, has 36 cases. Zimbabwe, with 16 million people, has two cases.

Africa’s 1.3 billion people may be hard-hit by COVID-19 as health experts warn of the spread in large cities with unsanitary conditions and inadequate health facilities.

In Italy, the hardest-hit country of all, declines in both new cases and deaths for a second consecutive day provided a faint glimmer of hope.

Italian officials said the virus had claimed just over 600 more lives, down from 793 two days earlier.

All told, the outbreak has killed more than 6000 people in Italy, the highest death toll of any country, and pushed the health system to the breaking point there and in Spain.

But in some rare good news for the nation, the man known in Italy as Patient No. 1  is out of hospital a month after he arrived in critically ill condition.

Authorities in Italy’s hardest hit region of Lombardy played an audio message recorded by the 38-year-old man in which he says, “You can get cured of this illness.”

The man identified only by his first name of Mattia spent 18 days in intensive care on a respirator. After that time, he says he began to do on his own “the most simple and beautiful thing: that is, to breathe.”

The man is awaiting the birth of a child within days. Last week, Italian media reported the death of his father, who lived in one of the first towns in Lombardy that were at the heart of the outbreak’s start.

Italian doctors say that even before Mattia’s case, they suspect the virus was circulating in Italy and that some patients who died of pneumonia last autumn might have had coronavirus.

Health workers on frontline

The risk to doctors, nurses and others on the front lines has become plain; Italy has seen at least 18 doctors with coronavirus die.

Spain reported that more than 3900 health care workers have become infected, accounting for roughly 12 per cent of the country’s total cases.

The number of new coronavirus infections in Spain has risen for the second day in a row, with 4517 new cases.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has tested negative for coronavirus after a doctor who gave her a vaccine was found to have the illness.

British health workers pleaded for more gear, saying they felt like “cannon fodder”.

In France, doctors scrounged masks from construction workers, factory floors, and architects.

“There’s a wild race to get surgical masks,” Francois Blanchecott, a biologist on the front lines of testing, told France Inter radio.

“We’re asking mayors’ offices, industries, any enterprises that might have a store of masks.”

Iran has reported another 127 coronavirus-related deaths, bringing its toll to 1812 amid 23,049 confirmed cases.

Myanmar reported its first two confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, one of the last countries in Asia to be hit be the pandemic.

Both of the patients are Myanmar citizens. The two men, who are aged 36 and 26 returned to Myanmar from the United States and Britain.

New Zealanders have been ordered to stay home and all non-essential businesses and activities must cease when a lockdown begins on Wednesday night.

Authorities in southern Pakistan have begun a two-week complete lockdown, as the number of positive coronavirus tests jumped to 799 across the country.

The number of coronavirus cases in South Africa jumped to 402 on Monday, up 128 from the day before.

Russia has reported 438 coronavirus cases and closed the border for foreigners, restricting air traffic

But the crisis continued to ease in China, with the health ministry saying Wuhan has now gone five consecutive days without a new infection, showing the effectiveness of draconian travel restrictions that are slowly being relaxed around the country.

China is now sending plane-loads of protective gear as well as doctors to Europe.

“The US is completely wasting the precious time that China has won for the world,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

-with AAP

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