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Spain virus deaths top 20,000 as global toll passes 150,000

Number of deaths in Africa reaches 1,000; believing the worst is behind them, some European countries are looking to open up

A man arrives at the the Poble Nou cemetery in Barcelona, Spain, April 18, 2020, to attend the funeral of his mother who died of coronavirus. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A man arrives at the the Poble Nou cemetery in Barcelona, Spain, April 18, 2020, to attend the funeral of his mother who died of coronavirus. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

The death toll from the coronavirus in Spain, the country hit hardest by the pandemic after the United States and Italy, moved past 20,000 on Saturday, the Spanish health ministry said.

A total of 20,043 people have now succumbed to the disease, which killed 565 people in Spain in the past 24 hours, slightly down on the 585 reported on Friday.

The number of declared cases has risen to 191,726, the ministry said. However, the increase in infections has slowed in recent days while the number deemed cured has risen to nearly 75,000.

Health officials say Spain has passed the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak which killed up to 950 people on April 2, and the pressure has eased on hospitals.

But the toll, which covers only people who tested positive for the virus, is increasingly contested in some regions. Officials there say thousands more people have died after showing symptoms of the disease without having been tested because there are not enough tests.

For example, Catalonia has reported that more than 7,800 people have died while the national toll for the region referred Saturday to more than 3,800.

Since March 14, Spain has been under one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe that has been extended until April 25 and could be prolonged even further.

A boy wearing a face mask carries a small bowl of “githeri”, or mixed beans and maize, for him to eat as he walks past an informational mural warning people about the risk of the new coronavirus, painted by graffiti artists in the Mathare slum, Nairobi, Kenya, April 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

Coronavirus deaths have surged past 150,000 worldwide with nearly a quarter of them in the United States, where President Donald Trump lent his support to protesters rallying against lockdown orders.

Evidence is mounting that social distancing successfully slowed the pandemic after more than half of humanity — 4.5 billion people — were confined to their homes.

Governments around the world are now grappling with when and how to ease lockdowns that have crippled the global economy, even as the COVID-19 death toll climbs further in hard-hit countries.

The United States accounts for nearly a third of the 2.25 million coronavirus infections reported globally.

It has also recorded over 37,000 deaths, more than any other nation, followed by Italy, Spain and France which have all been ravaged by their own outbreaks.

Many countries are testing only the most serious cases and the number of confirmed global cases is likely only a fraction of the true total.

Virtually no corner of the world has been left untouched, with deaths in Africa passing 1,000.

Nigeria announced the death of President Muhammadu Buhari’s top aide on Saturday, the highest-profile person to succumb to the virus in Africa’s most populous nation.

Meanwhile, many of the world’s 260 million Orthodox Christians are preparing to mark Easter without attending church services.

The Russian Orthodox Church has asked the faithful to celebrate at home, even though many places of worship will remain open. Services in Turkey will be closed to the public and broadcast on the internet.

Rare pedestrians walk along Stoleshnikov lane in downtown Moscow on April 16, 2020, during a strict lockdown in Russia to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. (Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

In Zimbabwe, celebrations and mass rallies to mark the country’s 40th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule were canceled.

And Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II will not mark her birthday on Tuesday with a traditional gun salute.

China sharply raised its death toll to 4,636 on Friday after adding another 1,290 fatalities for the city of Wuhan, where the respiratory disease first emerged late last year.

Trump, who has angrily shot back at claims he reacted too slowly to the virus threat, has accused Beijing of downplaying the impact of the virus within its borders.

“It is far higher than that and far higher than the U.S., not even close!” he tweeted.

Trump did not offer evidence to back the claim, but pressure has mounted in recent days on Beijing to come clean over its handling of the initial outbreak.

Leaders in France and Britain have also questioned China’s management of the crisis but Beijing hit back, saying it had not concealed information about the illness.

Signs that the outbreak could be easing in parts of Europe prompted Switzerland, Denmark and Finland to begin reopening shops and schools this week.

Germany’s health minister said Friday that the virus was “under control after 3,400 deaths in his country, which is now beginning the delicate task of lifting some restrictions without triggering a secondary outbreak.

A lifesize promotional figure outside a bookstore has been fitted with a face cover in Berlin on April 16, 2020, amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

Some small shops will be allowed to reopen Monday, and some children will return to school within weeks.

Parts of Italy also began emerging from lockdown, with Venice residents strolling around quiet canals.

Signs of the economic carnage wrought by the pandemic are mounting, with China reporting its first contraction in GDP since at least the early 1990s after several decades of breakneck growth.

The Trump administration pledged another $19 billion in relief for farmers reeling from a massive jolt to the agricultural markets with schools and restaurants shuttered across the country.

Part of the funds will be used to buy up surplus dairy products and produce that farmers have been destroying, unable to get it to consumers or food processors.

“Having to dump milk and plow under vegetables ready to market is not only financially distressing, but it’s heartbreaking as well to those who produce them,” US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said.

African state leaders and global financial bodies warned Friday that the continent needed tens of billions of dollars in additional funds to fight the outbreak.

The IMF also warned the virus could spark another “lost decade” in Latin America and backed debt moratoriums to free up spending for the region’s fragile economies.

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