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Europe's virus cases nearly double in 10 days, lockdowns extended


More than 84,000 people in Europe have now died from coronavirus and the number of cases approaches one million, as countries extend lockdowns into next month.

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The World Health Organisation said Europe now had half the world’s COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“Case numbers across the region continue to climb. In the past 10 days, the number of cases reported in Europe has nearly doubled to close to 1 million,” a WHO official said.

“The storm clouds of this pandemic still hang heavily over the European region.

“While some countries were entering a period where they may be able to ease restrictions gradually, there is no fast-track back to normal.”

The UK has extended its three-week nationwide coronavirus lockdown, with Britons ordered to stay at home for at least another three weeks after another 861 deaths overnight lifted the toll to nearly 14,000.

“We have just come too far, we’ve lost too many loved ones, we’ve already sacrificed far too much to ease up now, especially when we are beginning to see the evidence that our efforts are starting to pay off,” said Dominic Raab, who is deputising while Prime Minister Boris Johnson recuperates from COVID-19 complications that nearly cost him his life.

Raab chaired an emergency meeting on Thursday to review scientific evidence on the impact of the existing lockdown.

“Based on this advice … the government has decided that the current measures must remain in place for at least the next three weeks,” he said.

“Relaxing any of the measures currently in place would risk damage to both public health and the economy.”

The UK has the fifth-highest official death toll from COVID-19 in the world, after the US, Italy, Spain and France, though British figures only cover hospital fatalities and the real number is probably much higher.

The announcement, which had been widely expected, means Britons must stay at home unless they are shopping for basic necessities, or meeting medical needs.

Citizens are allowed to exercise in public once a day, and can travel to work if they are unable to work from home.

The measures were announced on March 23 for an initial three-week period. Medical advisers speaking alongside Raab said they had reduced the overall rate of transmission of the virus to below one, meaning it was now shrinking in the community.

But Raab refused to discuss any possible timeline, despite a growing political clamour for an “exit strategy” to the most severe restrictions on daily life in British peacetime history.

More than 20 millions Americans seek unemployment relief in a month

Seven US states have extended their shutdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic until May 15.

The US recorded another 2500 virus deaths overnight –  a second consecutive daily record – to take total fatalities to more than 31,000, a world high.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo extended his stay-at-home order by another two weeks despite a downward trend in key metrics such as hospitalisations that pointed to a stabilisation in the outbreak.

He said he was extending the restrictions on business and social life in co-ordination with six neighbouring states that agreed to take a regional approach to reopening.

Last week, Los Angeles extended its restrictions to May 15, and the District of Columbia did the same on Wednesday.

“What happens after that, I don’t know – we will see, depending on what the data says,” said Cuomo, whose state is the hardest hit in the US.

The restrictions have strangled the US economy to an extent not seen since the Great Depression nearly a century ago.

Another 5.2 million more Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday, lifting total filings for claims over the past month to more than 20 million.

US President Donald Trump discussed plans to ease social distancing requirements on a call with the nation’s governors, but said the decisions would be made by states.

The new guidelines are aimed at clearing the way for an easing of restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while keeping them in place in harder-hit places.

Areas with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phased gradual reopening of businesses and schools, with each phase lasting at least 14 days.

The strategy is meant to ensure the virus outbreak does not accelerate again.

Those people most susceptible to the respiratory disease would be advised to remain sheltered in place until the final phase.

The recommendations make clear that the return to normalcy will be a far longer process than Trump initially envisioned, with federal officials warning that some social distancing measures may need to remain in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak.

Spain death toll rises after homes and aged care centres included

Spain’s coronavirus death toll rose to 19,130 overnight after another 551 people succumbed to COVID-19, up from 523 the previous day.

Total infections climbed to 182,816, up from 177,633 on Wednesday.

Catalonia’s health department doubled its death toll after adding another 3242 to take the tally past 7000 for the region.

Until yesterday, it only reported virus deaths in hospitals, and confirmed by tests.

But it has changed methodology to include data from funerary services on suspected and confirmed coronavirus deaths in nursing homes and private homes for the first time.

-with AAP

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