The global death toll of the new coronavirus continues to surge while Italy, surpassing China, braces for more coronavirus cases with hospitals in its southern regions say they are unprepared for the expected number of patients. A lack of equipment, resources and personnel have piled huge pressure on Italy's health system, especially hitting the poorer south of the country.
After the outbreak in Italy began in the Lombardy region, which was quarantined on March 8, many people fled south, spreading the virus across the country with rising cases seen in Lazio, Campania and Puglia. The Italian government put the country under lockdown on March 9 and tightened the rules on March 11. Due to ill-equipped conditions, lack of equipment, low capacity in hospitals in poorer south compared to the richer north, fears have grown over how devastating it will be for the south to cope with the expected escalation in the number of cases. There has been a growing call among doctors for testing to be increased in the south, as reported by the British daily, the Guardian.
In addition, the level of contagion among the country's medical personnel has been rising with at least 2,629 health workers have reported to be infected by the virus since the outbreak began in February, representing 8.3% of total cases, according to a report published Wednesday by Gruppo Italiano per la Medicina Basata sulle Evidenze or GIMBE.
Italy's Civil Protection Chief Angelo Borrelli announced Friday there were 627 new deaths. The number of new cases also shot staggeringly higher with 5,986 cases. That brings the official total of new deaths overall to 4,032 and of cases to 47,021.
Authorities said most of the dead had existing health problems before they were sickened with the coronavirus, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Worldwide, the death toll from COVID-19 passed 10,000 and infections exceeded 244,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
More than 86,000 people have recovered, mostly in China, but the pace is much slower than the spread of the virus. Recovery takes two weeks or so for mild cases but can be up to six weeks for those that turn serious, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
China reported a second day with no new domestic cases since the virus appeared in the central city of Wuhan in December, before spreading worldwide. While there was a glimmer of hope in China, more countries tightened their borders and imposed lockdowns as the U.N. chief warned "millions" could die if the virus spread go unchecked around the globe.
As the virus has marched westward, the severity of the outbreaks and the focus of concern has shifted from Asia to Europe, with increasingly tough restrictions being imposed by national governments.
The U.S. state of California, among the worst-hit in the country, has told its 40 million residents to stay at home, the most drastic move yet in the U.S. to combat the pandemic. However, the California measures will not be enforced by police unlike in France, Italy, Spain and other European countries where people face fines if they break the rules.
As the toll surged in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the national lockdown, which has been copied around Europe, would be extended beyond April 3. France also mooted extending its two-week lockdown ordered this week by President Emmanuel Macron, as the interior minister blasted "idiots" who flout home confinement rules and put others at risk.
Germany's biggest state Bavaria on Friday became the first region in the country to order a lockdown for two weeks, imposing "fundamental restrictions" on going out. The strict measures follow the template set by China, where a lockdown imposed in Hubei province where the new coronavirus first emerged appears to have paid off.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Spain also continued to skyrocket, reaching 19,980 on Friday. More than half of the patients, 10,542, are currently hospitalized and 1,141 are in intensive care units, as per government data. Spain has been on lockdown since last Saturday night, with people only allowed to leave their houses for essential purchases or necessary work.
In a measure of how the fortunes of East and West have shifted, a Chinese Red Cross official heading an aid delegation to Milan castigated Italians for failing to take their national lockdown seriously. Sun Shuopeng said he was shocked to see so many people walking around, using public transportation and eating out in hotels.
“Right now we need to stop all economic activity, and we need to stop the mobility of people,” he said. “All people should be staying at home in quarantine.”
But globally, governments are trying to balance the need to lock down residents with the need to keep food, medicine and other essentials flowing.
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