British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday became the first major world leader to test positive for COVID-19 as Spain recorded a record number of deaths from the pandemic that is threatening millions worldwide.
In a grim milestone, the US overtook China as the nation with the most cases, while seeing an unprecedented amount of newly unemployed amid fears of a global economic meltdown.
Africa’s economic powerhouse, South Africa, became the latest nation on the continent to start life under lockdown as it reported its first COVID-19 deaths.
Johnson said that he had developed mild symptoms over the previous 24 hours and was self-isolating after testing positive.
Spain reported that its death toll had hit 4,858 after 769 people died in 24 hours, a record one-day figure for fatalities and far higher than in Italy, which counted 662 deaths in its last daily update on Thursday.
Europe has suffered the brunt of the pandemic, with millions across the continent on lockdown, and the streets of Paris, Rome and Madrid eerily empty.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned that his nation — reeling from the deaths of more than 1,600 people, including a 16-year-old girl — was facing difficult days ahead.
“We find ourselves in a crisis that will last, in a health situation that will not improve any time soon,” Philippe said.
However, the focus is turning from Europe to the US, where the number of known infections reached almost 86,000 yesterday.
In New York, health workers are battling a surging toll of dead and infected at the US epicenter of the pandemic, including an increasing number of younger patients.
“Now it’s 50-year-olds, 40-year-olds, 30-year-olds,” said one respiratory therapist at the Jewish Medical Center in Queens.
They “didn’t listen about not going out or protecting themselves and washing their hands,” he said. “To watch somebody in their 30s die, it’s hard. You can’t have visitors. They’re in the room by themselves on a ventilator. It’s very depressing.”
US President Donald Trump, who has been accused of downplaying the enormous scale of the crisis, spoke by telephone with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who said the two nations needed to “unite to fight” the pandemic.
“China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The warm words were in contrast to weeks of finger-pointing between the two nations, especially the White House’s repeated references to “the Chinese virus.”
About 3 billion people have been told to stay home, as healthcare systems even in the most developed nations are stretched to breaking point.
Medical workers have been having to make difficult choices.
“If I’ve got five patients and only one bed, I have to choose who gets it,” said Sara Chinchilla, a pediatrician at a hospital near Madrid. “People are dying who could be saved, but there’s no space in intensive care.”
Even with lockdowns implemented worldwide, researchers at Imperial College London on Thursday said that the global death toll could be staggering.
Their model shows 1.86 million people could die, with nearly 470 million infected this year.
Failure to impose lockdowns and “social distancing” could make those numbers far higher, they said.
For nations already battered by war, the coronavirus has come as another shock.
On the deserted streets of the Old City in Damascus, 59-year-old textiles vendor Ahmad was finally closing up shop after staying open through nearly 10 years of conflict.
“We’ve lived through some tough times during the war, but never in my life have I seen the markets and shops close for days on end like now,” he said.
However, there have been rays of hope in the midst of the crisis.
Armed groups in Cameroon, Yemen and the Philippines have moved to reduce violence after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued an appeal for ceasefires, while armies of volunteers have emerged in many nations to bring help to the needy, with food deliveries for the elderly, free taxi rides and accommodation for health workers.
“We delivered urgent diabetes medicines today to Claudia, who is 70 and lives with her 90-year-old mother. We passed them through the window,” said Lorenzo Mastrocesare, a volunteer in Rome.
GOOD SIGN: After reporting no domestic cases for 44 days, Chen Shih-chung said event rules would be relaxed, but people should still practice social distancing or wear masks The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday announced that its main strategy would now be to maintain strict border controls, but that it would start relaxing domestic regulations from Sunday next week. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that there were no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections yesterday, and a total of 416 infected patients have been removed from isolation after treatment. While confirmed cases continued to increase globally, reaching more than 5.5 million yesterday, there have been no domestic cases in Taiwan for 44 consecutive days, he said. Infection control measures would continue to
EXCESS: The CECC needs to determine the number of masks it needs to requisition before making a decision this week on allowing manufacturers to export the surplus Taiwan is planning to lift a ban on surgical mask exports on Monday next week, Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare Hsueh Jui-yuan (薛瑞元) said yesterday, as the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) reported no new cases of COVID-19 infection. Once the CECC has confirmed the volume of masks it needs to requisition, it would finalize the plan to allow mask exports, likely later in the week, said Hsueh, who heads the center’s medical response division. Taiwan instituted a mask rationing system in February, at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. As the supply of masks is now sufficient to meet basic consumer
Hong Kong police yesterday cast a dragnet around the territory’s Legislative Council, firing pepper-ball rounds and arresting hundreds as they stamped down on protests against a bill banning insults to the Chinese national anthem. The latest unrest comes days after China announced separate plans to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong following last year’s huge pro-democracy rallies. That move has prompted US President Donald Trump to warn that Hong Kong might lose its status as a global financial center if the territory’s freedoms and vaunted judicial independence are swept aside. Yesterday’s protests were sparked by a debate over a new
China yesterday threatened countermeasures against the US if it was punished for plans to impose a sedition law on Hong Kong, which the territory’s security chief hailed as a new tool that would defeat “terrorism.” Beijing plans to pass a new security law for Hong Kong that bans treason, subversion and sedition after months of massive, often-violent pro-democracy protests last year. However, many Hong Kongers, business groups and Western nations fear the proposal could be a death blow to the territory’s treasured freedoms and thousands took to the streets on Sunday, despite a ban on mass gatherings introduced to combat the COVID-19