Spain extends lockdown: world update

Spain extends lockdown: world update

Swedish PM fears 'thousands' of deaths, new cases in Tokyo top 100 for the first time

Citizens pause in the street to remember coronavirus victims on the occasion of the Qing Ming tomb-sweeping festival in Beijing on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)
Citizens pause in the street to remember coronavirus victims on the occasion of the Qing Ming tomb-sweeping festival in Beijing on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)

Spain said on Saturday that it would extend its lockdown by two weeks to April 25 after the number of coronavirus cases surpassed those in Italy, even as deaths declined slightly.

The announcement came as the virus continued to rampage through many countries, with total infections passing 1.1 million and deaths exceeding 60,000, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Attention has also turned to Sweden, which has surprised the world by taking a relatively relaxed approach to containment so far. Its prime minister admitted the country may be facing “thousands” of coronavirus deaths and would have to change course.

In Spain, a slower pace of fatalities and new cases is offering hope that the outbreak may be edging toward a peak. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said his country was on the verge of reversing the virus expansion curve in the next few days but needs to reduce the contagion “even further”.

The number of confirmed cases in the country increased on Saturday to 124,736, from 117,710 a day earlier. The number of new deaths in Spain declined for a second day, with an additional 809 fatalities for a total of 11,744 (story continues below).

Pedestrians walk through Sergel's Square in Stockholm on Wednesday. Sweden has placed relatively few restrictions on its citizens but that may be about to change. (TT News Agency/Fredrik Sandberg via Reuters)

Sweden rethinks strategy

There are signs that the death rate in Sweden is growing faster than elsewhere in Scandinavia, raising pressure on the government to abandon its controversial hands-off approach in tackling Covid-19.

The Swedish experiment has drawn international bewilderment as schools, restaurants and cafes have remained open. And while other countries passed draconian laws restricting movement, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven relied on the common sense of his fellow citizens to carry his country through the pandemic.

But after a week of sobering data, Lofven now seems to be striking a darker tone. In an interview published on Saturday by Dagens Nyheter newspaper, he warned that Sweden may be facing “thousands” of coronavirus deaths, and said the crisis is likely to drag on for months rather than weeks.

Meanwhile, the newspaper Expressen reported that his Social Democrat-led government may be seeking extraordinary powers to bypass parliament and force through a tougher response to the virus.

The number of Swedish deaths rose to 373 on Saturday, up 12% from Friday. That brings the rate per million in Scandinavia’s biggest economy to 36, compared with 29 in Denmark and 9 in Norway, where much tougher lockdowns are in place.

With much of the rest of the world going into lockdown, Sweden’s efforts to keep its economy open aren’t doing much to shield it from recession. In fact, some economists warn Swedish GDP may contract as much as 8% this year, which would represent a far deeper crisis than in 2008-09.

Sweden has already taken a few steps toward more restrictions. It recently banned gatherings larger than 50, compared with 500 previously. And restaurants can only serve patrons while they’re seated at tables, not while standing at bars. Visits to retirement homes for the elderly are banned, and Lofven has made clear stricter instructions may follow.

China remembers ‘martyrs’

China came to a standstill on Saturday to mourn the patients and medical staff who died because of the coronavirus outbreak, with the country observing a nationwide three-minute silence.

At 10am in cities, towns and villages across China, citizens paused as cars, trains and ships sounded their horns, and air-raid sirens rang out in memory of the more than 3,000 lives lost to the virus.

In Wuhan — the city where the virus first emerged late last year — sirens and horns sounded as people fell silent in the streets.

Staff at the Tongji Hospital stood outside with heads bowed towards the main building, some in the protective hazmat suits that have become a symbol of the crisis worldwide.

“I feel a lot of sorrow about our colleagues and patients who died,” Xu, a nurse at Tongji who worked on the frontlines treating coronavirus patients, told AFP, holding back tears.

“I hope they can rest well in heaven.”

Officials said the observance was a chance to mourn virus “martyrs” — an honorific title bestowed by the government this week on 14 medical workers who died fighting the outbreak.

The hashtag “China remembers its heroes” racked up 1.3 billion views on the Weibo platform on Saturday.

Those martyrs include doctor Li Wenliang, a whistleblower in Wuhan who was reprimanded by local authorities for trying to warn others in the early days of the contagion.

Li’s death from Covid-19 in February prompted a national outpouring of grief and anger at the government’s handling of the crisis.

Saturday’s commemoration coincided with the annual Qing Ming holiday — the “tomb sweeping” festival — when Chinese people visit the graves of relatives and leave offerings in remembrance.

Although China claims to have curbed the spread of the virus, some restrictions were tightened again this week to prevent a second wave of infections.

Authorities have discouraged visits to cemeteries to mark the festival.

Cemeteries across the country are offering a “cloud tomb-sweeping” service in which families can honour their ancestors by watching a live stream of cemetery staff attending to graves on their behalf.

Websites are also offering people the chance to pay their respects at a “virtual” tomb, including by lighting a digital candle and leaving a dish of digital fruit.

Triple-digit Tokyo

At least 118 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in Tokyo on Saturday, the first time the daily increase has topped 100.

The figure brings the city’s total number of cases to 891, putting more pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare a state of emergency.

As of Friday, 704 infected people had been admitted to hospital in the Japanese capital. With Saturday’s increase, it is almost certain that the 750 beds reserved for coronavirus patients by the local government will be filled.

Far fewer people were on the streets of shopping areas in Tokyo and other cities in Japan on Saturday, after authorities requested that residents stay at home.

For the second straight weekend, many people refrained from going out after the National Governors’ Association on Thursday called on residents to avoid leaving their homes except for essential reasons. The number of temporarily closed stores and restaurants increased from the previous weekend.

“As the vast majority of stores are shut, the number of people on the streets is only about 10% of normal times,” said a 48-year-old shop employee in Tokyo’s Omotesando district. “I hardly see foreign tourists these days.” (Story continues below)

People keeping an appropriate distance from each other enjoy picnics in Han River Park in Seoul on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)

Korea extends social distancing

South Korea has expanded a social distancing campaign by another two weeks to April 19.

More than 10,000 Covid-19 cases have been reported in South Korea. At one point, it had the second-worst outbreak of Covid-19 after mainland China but it has brought it largely under control.

However the government has said it needs to maintain social distancing measures to avoid another spike in infections.

“We have no choice but to continue an intense social distancing campaign for some time,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said.

Singapore clamps down

The Singapore government plans to shutter schools and most workplaces next week and has introduced a raft of stricter measures intended as a “circuit breaker” to slow the spread of the virus.

Health authorities said an elderly man with no recent travel history to affected countries died early Saturday, marking the sixth fatality for the city-state.

The 88-year-old man had a history of heart and kidney disease, it added.

On Friday, health authorities confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19 infections, with a new cluster at the Singapore Cricket Club.

No letup in Britain

The UK reported its deadliest day yet, with an increase of 708 coronavirus deaths, bringing the total to 4,313. According to the Department of Health and Social Care, 41,903 people have tested positive for the virus. 

The country will not be able to relax its stringent lockdown rules until the end of May, a leading government adviser said, warning that first the spread of coronavirus must slow and intense testing must be introduced.

Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, said work was under way to establish how more relaxed rules could be introduced in time.

“We want to move to a situation where at least by the end of May that we’re able to substitute some less intensive measures, more based on technology and testing, for the complete lockdown we have now,” he told BBC Radio.

“There is a great deal of work under way to look at how we can substitute some of the very intense social distancing currently in place with a regime more based on intensive testing, very rapid access to testing, contact tracing of contracts.

“But in order to substitute that regime for what we’re doing now, we need to get case numbers down.”

The government has put Britain into a widespread lockdown, closing pubs, restaurants and nearly all shops, while banning social gatherings and ordering people to stay at home unless it is absolutely essential to venture out.

Chief pandemic modeller Graham Medley told The Times newspaper on Saturday that he feared Britain had painted itself in a corner with no clear exit from a strategy that will damage the economic and mental well-being of much of the population.

US Deaths Top 7,000

US deaths from the coronavirus have surpassed 7,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. New York state suffered its highest number of deaths in a single day, with more than 500 fatalities as the total number approached 3,000 statewide, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Cuomo said the state also had more than 10,000 new cases in a single day, passing 100,000 in confirmed infections.

The US has the world’s largest outbreak of the virus, with more than 275,000 infections. Italy, the next most hard-hit country, has about 120,000.

Trump gets tough

President Donald Trump said he had invoked the Defense Production Act to prevent crucial medical supplies from being exported to other countries.

The Department of Health and Human Services has seized nearly 200,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks, 600,000 gloves, as well as “many, many, many bottles and disinfectant sprays that were being hoarded”, Trump said.

The president has been in a public shouting match with 3M Co. over its export commitments. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Thursday that the administration has had concerns about whether the company’s production around the world was being delivered to the US.

3M responded Friday that there would be “significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to health-care workers in Canada and Latin America”.

Deadliest day in France

France reported its deadliest day on Friday as the number of coronavirus fatalities at the country’s hospitals rose.

The health ministry reported 588 new hospital deaths and 1,416 nursing home deaths, bringing the total to 6,507. Still, daily intensive-care admissions fell for a fourth day, adding to signs that lockdown measures across Europe may be helping to bring the outbreak under control.

Italy cases stabilise

Italy saw the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths stabilising on Friday, as officials express optimism that a four-week lockdown is beginning to check Europe’s worst outbreak.

The pace of both new deaths and new infections has flattened out over past days, even as the containment measures shuttering all non-essential activities and banning most movement take a heavy toll on the economy.

Russia follows ‘optimistic scenario’

The outbreak in Russia so far is following the “optimistic scenario, in large part because in the previous two months of contact with this virus, Russia took all the necessary measures”, Anna Popova, the country’s top public-health official, told state television.

The government reported the second straight day of declines in new cases on Saturday. The latest figures showed 582 additional infections in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 4,731, with 43 deaths.


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