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India locks down as pandemic deaths rise but Trump wants US open by Easter

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US president Donald Trump has declared he wants the nation’s businesses to reopen by Easter despite warnings America could become the pandemic’s epicentre, as India locks down its 1.3 billion citizens for three weeks from tonight.

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Trump said on Monday he was considering how to restart business life when a 15-day national US shutdown ends next week, even as the highly contagious virus spreads rapidly and poorly equipped hospitals struggle with a wave of deadly cases.

Trump told a virtual town hall broadcast on Fox News Channel that he would like to see US businesses opening their doors by Easter, to be celebrated this year in mid-April.

“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said.

But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that being too hasty to ease the limits on travel, socialising and working together would cost lives.

“If you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it’s no contest,” he said on Tuesday.

“No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life,” he said at a convention centre in Manhattan that is being converted into a 1000-bed temporary hospital.

New York is the worst hit by the outbreak, which has infected more than 50,000 people in the US and killed at least 660.

The death toll in New York from the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by coronavirus has reached 157.

The expected need for hospital beds in New York at the peak of the outbreak has jumped to 140,000, Cuomo said, compared with 110,000 projected recently. Only 53,000 beds are now available.

The rate of infection is now doubling every three days in New York and the worst of the outbreak, known as the apex, could arrive in 14 to 21 days, putting huge pressure on health services, Cuomo said.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, also a Republican, pushed back on the notion that an easing of restrictions might start anytime soon.

“We don’t think that we’re going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock,” he told CNN on Tuesday.

India warns of high price of not tackling virus

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said all air and train travel, businesses and schools will be shut down, and nobody will be allowed to leave their homes for 21 days.

“The only way to save ourselves from coronavirus is if we don’t leave our homes, whatever happens, we stay at home,” he said.

“Every district, every lane, every village will be under lockdown.

According to health experts, a minimum of 21 days is most crucial to break the cycle of infection. If we are not able to manage this pandemic in the next 21 days, the country and your family will be set back by 21 years.

“If we are not able to manage the next 21 days, then many families will be destroyed forever.”

Scores of people turned up at shops in Delhi and Mumbai and elsewhere to buy essentials before the ban orders went into effect.

India has found 482 cases of the coronavirus and 10 people have died from the COVID-19 disease it causes.

However alarm is growing across the region about prospects for its spread into impoverished communities and the ability of resource-starved public health sectors to cope.

Europe deaths surge

France has become the fifth country to report more than 1000 deaths from coronavirus and the national lockdown imposed last week for an initial 15 days could last at least six weeks.

France reported 240 new deaths from coronavirus on Tuesday for a total of 1100, an increase of 28 per cent that made France the fifth nation to cross the 1000-fatalities threshold after China, Italy, Iran and Spain.

This tally only accounts for people who died in public hospitals, whereas several retirement homes have been reporting deaths in the double digits.

Health authorities will soon be able to tabulate data coming from retirement homes, which will likely trigger a more dramatic increase in registered fatalities.

The number of infections rose to 22,300 –  a 12 per cent jump in 24 hours.

More than 2500 people were in a serious condition requiring life support, up by 21 per cent from Monday, and 8000 hospital beds are now equipped with ventilators.

Britain has posted its biggest daily rise in coronavirus deaths as the number of confirmed cases increased rapidly.

The death toll across the UK rose by 87 on Tuesday to 422 – a 26 per cent increase on the previous day, the health ministry said.

Confirmed cases rose to 8077 from 6650, a 21 per cent rise that followed a couple of days in which the rate of increase appeared to have tailed off somewhat.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered Britons on Monday to stay at home to halt the spread of coronavirus, imposing curbs on everyday life without precedent in peacetime.

Covid-19 fatalities in Italy have surged in the last 24 hours, dashing hopes the epidemic in the world’s worst-hit country is easing.

The death toll rose by 743 on Tuesday, the second-highest daily tally since the outbreak emerged in northern regions on February 21, and up steeply from the 602 recorded on Monday.

Italy has seen more fatalities than any other country, with latest figures showing that 6820 people have died from the infection in barely a month.

The total number of confirmed cases hit 69,176 on Tuesday.

However with Italy testing only people with severe symptoms, the head of the Civil Protection Agency said the true number of infected people was probably 10 times higher.

“A ratio of one certified case out of every 10 is credible,” Angelo Borrell said, indicating he believed some 700,000 people could have been infected.

Italy has been in lockdown for two weeks, with schools, bars and restaurants shut and Italians forbidden from leaving their homes for all but essential needs.

On Monday the government closed all businesses not deemed to be essential to the nation’s supply chain of vital requirements.

After the latest figures Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte stiffened fines for people leaving their homes to up to 3000 euros ($A5500) from a previous maximum of 206 euros ($A370).

“Every one of us must play our part,” he told reporters at a news conference held by remote video link to avoid contagion.

“If everyone obeys the rules they don’t only protect themselves and their loved ones, but they will enable the whole national community to come out of this emergency.”

Current restrictions are due to remain in place until April 3, but a decree issued on Tuesday gave the government the power to extend the deadline to July 31.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs forecast on Tuesday that the Italian economy, already teetering on recession before the outbreak hit, would shrink by more than 11 per cent this year.

The Civil Protection Agency said the biggest difficulty facing the health service was a shortage of masks and ventilators – a problem that has dogged hospitals since the start of the outbreak.

Underscoring the problem, regional governor of Veneto Luca Zaia ordered the confiscation of ventilators at veterinary surgeries, saying they could be converted to human use.

Spain stores bodies at ice rink

In Spain, the first bodies have arrived at Madrid’s ice rink, which was hastily transformed into a makeshift mortuary as Spanish authorities scrambled to deal with a rising virus death toll

Spain is Europe’s second-worst hit country after Italy, with 2696 deaths and nearly 40,000 confirmed cases after 6600 cases and more than 500 deaths were reported overnight, the sharpest daily increase since the start of the crisis.

About 14 per cent of infections are among health workers.

The military disinfected 179 nursing homes on Monday and plan to clean another 96 on Tuesday, officials said.

The state prosecutor has opened an investigation after Defence Minister Margarita Robles said the army had found unattended bodies at nursing homes.

In the southern region of Andalusia, the mayor of a small town pleaded for help after reporting 38 of 42 residents at the local nursing home had tested positive for the virus, along with 60 per cent of staff.

Africa tackles virus

Egypt has declared a curfew from 7pm to 6am for two weeks starting on Wednesday, while South Africa cases rose to 554 from 402 a day earlier as the nation prepares to enter a 21-day lockdown on Thursday night.

South Africa has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in sub-Saharan Africa, and public health experts are worried that the virus could overwhelm the health system if infection rates rise steeply.

Health officials are working to expand the country’s coronavirus testing capacity and develop a plan to ensure there are enough intensive care beds with respirators.

South Africa will be the third country in Africa to close down all but essential economic activity, after Rwanda and Tunisia.

The West African nation of Niger recorded its first virus-related death, while Senegal declared a state of emergency on Monday and imposed a curfew, restricted travel between regions, closed public spaces and banned gatherings.

South Sudan closed its borders, Zimbabwe will close borders to all but returning residents, and Nigeria has banned international flights.

At least 43 of Africa’s 54 countries have reported cases.

-with AAP

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