SOAVE, Italy (AP) — Italy, Iran and the United States reported soaring new death tolls as the coronavirus pandemic marched relentlessly across the globe Sunday, prompting a scramble in hard-hit regions to set up more hospital beds and replenish the dwindling medical supplies needed to keep health workers safe.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte went on live TV to announce that he was tightening the country’s lockdown and shutting down all production facilities except those providing essential goods and services.
“We are facing the most serious crisis that the country has experienced since World War II,” Conte told Italians during a broadcast at midnight.
He cautioned citizens to be calm and patient, insisting there was “no alternative” than to impose further restrictions. Scientists have argued that avoiding even one infection means scores more are prevented down the line.
Italy announced its biggest day-to-day increase of infections, which rose to 53,000 people, with nearly 800 new deaths. As bodies piled up in Italian hospitals, morgues and churches, and as medical workers pleaded for more help, there was no sign that Italy was yet taming its arc of contagion. Italy now has 4,825 deaths, more than all of China, where the virus first emerged late last year.
In the US, where several states have ordered residents to stay indoors, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the government was “literally scouring the globe looking for medical supplies.” Health care workers from Oklahoma City to Minneapolis sought donations of protective equipment. Staff at a Detroit hospital began creating homemade face masks for workers.
Negotiators from Congress and the White House resumed top-level talks on a ballooning $1 trillion-plus economic rescue package, urged by US President Donald Trump to strike a deal to steady a nation upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Trump appeared confident about the nation’s ability to defeat the pandemic soon even as health leaders acknowledged that the US was nowhere near the peak of the outbreak.
Nationwide, there were 26,747 cases and 340 deaths as the US overtook Germany as the country with the fourth-highest number of cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. At least 38 people tested positive at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex — more than half of them inmates. Another inmate became the first in the US to test positive in a federal jail.
During his weekly Sunday blessing, Pope Francis urged all Christians to join in reciting the “Our Father” prayer next Wednesday at noon. “To the virus pandemic, we want to respond with the universality of prayer, of compassion, of tenderness,” the pope said.
Francis, who began streaming his audiences earlier this month due to virus concerns, said he would also lead a global blessing to an empty St. Peter’s Square on Friday. The “Urbi et Orbi,” blessing, normally reserved for Christmas Day and Easter, will be broadcast to the faithful.
In Britain, where Sunday was Mother’s Day, the government had a stark message for millions: Visiting your mother could kill her. Prime Minister Boris Johnson implored Britons to forgo traditional family visits, parties and Sunday lunches.
“If your mother is elderly or vulnerable, then I am afraid all the statistics show that she is much more likely to die from coronavirus,” Johnson said. “This time the best thing is to ring her, video call her, Skype her, but to avoid any unnecessary physical contact or proximity.”
Iran’s supreme leader refused US assistance Sunday to fight the virus, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that it could be made by America. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments came as Iran faces crushing US sanctions over its nuclear actions. Iran says it has 1,685 deaths and 21,638 confirmed cases of the virus — a toll that experts from the World Health Organization say is almost certainly under-reported.
Worldwide, nearly 312,000 people have been infected and over 13,400 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. About 150 countries now have confirmed cases, and deaths have been reported in more than 30 American states.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Some 93,800 people have recovered, mostly in China.
In the US, New Jersey and St. Louis were added to a growing list of areas where residents were ordered to stay home. Hawaii’s governor instituted a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine starting Thursday for both returning residents and visitors and urged people to delay planned vacations to the Pacific archipelago.
Milan, the capital of Italy’s prosperous Lombardy region, appeared more deserted than ever. The square in front of the Duomo was empty except for one older couple walking a dog.
Lombardy has raised the fines for people out without a good reason from 207 euros ($222) to 5,000 euros ($5,380). Officials lamented last week that the number of people on the streets was still too high to break the pandemic. The number of buses, trams and metros were cut — but that only caused more Italians to go out in their cars and was revoked.
The first of nine hulking Russian Il-76 cargo planes left Chkalovsky military airport in Moscow on Sunday, bringing Russian medical personnel and supplies to Italy, including eight mobile medical teams.
The Chinese city of Wuhan — where the global pandemic was first detected and the first city to be locked down — went a fourth consecutive day on Sunday without reporting any new or suspected cases. Wuhan must go 14 straight days without a new case in order for draconian travel restrictions to be lifted, but a special train brought in more than 1,000 car factory employees for the first time since the outbreak.
Parks and other public gathering places were reopening in China as people return to work and businesses resumed. However, the country has placed increasing restrictions on those coming from overseas.
All arrivals to Beijing from abroad must quarantine themselves for two weeks in a hotel at their own expense. And beginning Monday, flights into the capital will be diverted to airports in other cities, where passengers will have to pass a health inspection.
China’s first recent case of community infection was reported Sunday in the southern province of Guangzhou, reportedly caught from a Turkish arrival. As the outbreak has died down domestically, an influx of people coming into China has stoked fears of a resurgence.
Borders kept closing and airlines kept slashing flights. The long-haul carrier Emirates, a crucial East-West link that has now cut 70% of its routes, had been flying into Beijing despite the virus outbreak. Its Beijing flights, however, will end Monday.
After recording its first two deaths, Singapore said it will fully shut its borders beginning Tuesday. All short-term visitors will be barred while returning locals will face a 14-day quarantine. Sri Lanka blocked all passenger flights and ships from entering.
Australia became the latest country to close all bars, clubs, cinemas, casinos, sporting and religious venues, while restaurants and cafes were restricted to takeout service only. Schools remained open.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the rules were implemented because people disregarded social distancing requirements and will be in place for at least six months.
In Spain, Europe’s hardest-hit country after Italy, intensive care units in some areas were close to their limits even before Sunday’s new tally of 28,572 infections and 1,720 deaths. The army was building a field hospital with 5,500 beds in a convention center in Madrid, where hotels are also being turned into wards for virus patients without serious breathing problems.
Fernando Simón, director of Spain’s center for health alerts and emergencies, said that over 3,400 health workers have been infected, more than 10% of the total. “This is a statistic that concerns us,” he said.
The Health Ministry has said it will distribute 500,000 masks to health workers and 800,000 to patients in the coming days.
Dr. German Peces-Barba, a lung specialist at Fundación Jiménez Díaz hospital in Madrid, said more than half of the 600 beds had been dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients.
“This will likely get worse in the coming days,” he said. “For now, the hospitals are bearing up the huge demand, but the emergency services are in bad shape.”
“We can’t just repeat the slogans that we will get through this together, which are good to boost everyone’s spirits,” Peces-Barba said. “But from inside the hospital the situation is such that if it lasts much longer we won’t be able to resist.”