Italy pads death toll, NY deploys National Guards

Italy has recorded its deadliest day of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis despite locking down the entire country, as New York deployed the National Guard to contain a disease that has sown worldwide panic.

The hardest-hit country in Europe said its death toll from the COVID-19 virus had risen Tuesday by a third to 631, with the surging epidemic taking its toll on global sporting, cultural and political events.

While authorities in China, where the outbreak began, have declared it “basically curbed,” cases are multiplying around the world, sparking panic buying in shops, and wild swings on financial markets.

READ: Italy’s fragile economy, tourism strained by coronavirus measures

China remains the hardest-hit overall with more than 80,000 cases and over 3,000 deaths, out of a global total of 117,339 cases and 4,251 deaths across 107 countries and territories.

The virus is infecting all walks of life, including politics, with US Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden both cancelling campaign rallies and British Health Minister Nadine Dorries saying she had tested positive.

And amid criticism of the US authorities’ response, New York deployed the National Guard for the first time during the crisis to help contain the spread of the disease from an infection-hit suburb.

There have been 173 confirmed cases in New York state, including 108 in Westchester County, home to New Rochelle where the majority of infections have been detected.

“It is a dramatic action, but it is the largest cluster in the country. This is literally a matter of life and death,” said state governor Andrew Cuomo.

“People are scared, it’s an unusual situation to be in,” said Miles Goldberg, who runs a New Rochelle bar.

“It makes people nervous to be around others, it makes people nervous to get inside into businesses and such,” he said.

In an unprecedented move, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has told the 60 million residents of his country they should travel only for the most urgent work or health reasons.

And while squares in Milan and Rome were emptied of their usual bustle and traffic, some residents appeared uncertain if they were even allowed to leave their homes for everyday tasks like shopping.

Reflecting the differing stages of the outbreak, China relaxed some of its most severe restrictions in Hubei province at the same moment as several European countries went on full alert mode.

A slew of airlines announced they would cut all flights to Italy for the next few weeks, while a number of European countries announced the closure of schools and bans on mass public events.

Slovenia said it was closing its border with Italy, while Austria announced bans on trains and flights to the neighbouring country.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Slovenia and Austria had made “bad decisions” with the drastic measures but warned that his country was “just at the beginning” of its outbreak.

Chile said it was would quarantine all travellers arriving from Italy and Spain.

In the United States, reports have suggested President Donald Trump could be vulnerable after several senior Republicans quarantined themselves because they had been in contact with a virus sufferer.

Trump said Tuesday he would be happy to get a coronavirus test but has been told there is no need.

“I feel very good but I guess it’s not a big deal to get tested and it’s something I would do,” he told reporters in Washington.

READ: Pope Francis prays for virus victims

But the White House doctor declared there was “no reason to do it,” Trump added. “There’s no symptoms, no anything.”

There are concerns that the US could become another hotspot, with at least 26 deaths and 605 confirmed infections so far.

Trump had promised to announce “major” economic measures on Tuesday, but no concrete details had emerged by early evening.

In New York, the UN closed its headquarters to the public, while major US universities have been forced to cancel classes and move lessons online.

In the West Coast—where most of the US deaths have occurred—the Grand Princess cruise ship has docked at California’s port of Oakland, for more than 2,400 passengers to be taken into treatment or placed in quarantine, in a delicate, days-long operation.

Beijing on Wednesday ordered people arriving in the Chinese capital from any country to go into 14-day quarantine as China reported an increase in imported COVID-19 cases, threatening its progress against the epidemic.

Zhang Qiang, a city government official, said at a press conference on Wednesday that those landing from “non-epidemic countries” will also have to stay at home for 14 days.

People arriving in Beijing for business trips must stay in a designated hotel and undergo a nucleic acid test for the virus, he added.

Travellers flying into Beijing Capital International Airport from high-risk countries are now handled separately from other passengers, reported state media on Tuesday.

READ: Pope to priests: Comfort the sick

In the Middle East, Iran registered 54 new deaths—the highest single-day toll so far in the country with the third-deadliest outbreak in the world. A total of 291 people have now died in the Islamic Republic.

Turkey, a major hub linking Europe and western Asia, registered its first case on Tuesday, as did the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a rare glimmer of positive news, the remaining guests at a hotel on lockdown in Spain’s Canary Islands left the building after a 14-day quarantine, to the cheers and applause of hotel workers and medical staff.

The virus has battered tourism around the world, as people scrap travel plans, and a restaurant owner in Florence in northern Italy said that the impact on business had been catastrophic.

“We hope that we will see the end of it, because from around 140 covers a day, this afternoon, we’ve gone down to 20-25,” Agostino Ferrara said.

Pope Francis also seemed to muddy the waters, holding a mass in which he urged priests to go out and visit the sick—something Conte has specifically discouraged.

Sporting events continued to fall victim to the virus as authorities urge people to avoid large gatherings.

Arsenal’s game at Manchester City was postponed after players from the London club were put into quarantine, making it the first Premier League fixture to be called off because of the virus.

The virus has sparked doubts about the Olympics due to open in Tokyo on July 24 and the traditional flame lighting ceremony in Greece is set to be held without spectators.

In the United States, organizers rescheduled the two-week Coachella music festival for October.

The virus and the response to the crisis has prompted pandemonium on global markets with volatility not seen since the world financial crisis in 2008.

After suffering its worst session in more than 11 years at the beginning of the week, the Dow Jones Index in New York bounced back significantly, rising 5 percent on Tuesday.

Politicians around the world have scrambled to put together emergency packages to ease the significant financial hardships the virus is expected to cause for households and businesses.

Italy prepared Tuesday to let families skip mortgage and some tax payments while Japan unveiled a second emergency package to tackle economic woes stemming from the outbreak, including $15 billion in loan programs to support small businesses.

Analysts warned of further volatility ahead, however.

“It’s like winding up a rubber band. The more you wind it, when you let go, the more it pops,” said LBBW’s Karl Haeling.

“A lot of the uncertainty goes to the root of the virus itself.”

The virus has infected nearly 81,000 people in China so far, with a large majority having already recovered. The national death toll rose to 3,158 on Wednesday.

The global death toll from the new coronavirus has passed 4,000 and the outbreak has spread to over 100 countries. 

READ: WHO chides countries for not taking COVID seriously enough

READ: COVID-19 shutters schools: 300 million affected

READ: Ten killed in China as COVID quarantine hotel collapses

Topics: novel coronavirus , National Guard , Nadine Dorries , Bernie Sanders , Joe Biden
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