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Curfews, lockdowns multiply as virus advances rapidly

A slushy street vendor, who uses a protective face mask when he has customers as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, waits for them along the seawall, normally bustling with pedestrians, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, March 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Summary

Some countries are being hit harder than others as many try to flatten the curve of COVID-19

Spain has recorded more than 300 deaths in just one day, bringing the death toll to over 1300

BERLIN (AP) — Streets, squares and highways were deserted in large parts of the world Saturday as curfews and lockdowns multiplied in the face of a rapidly advancing virus that is severely straining many health systems.

Three American states with a combined population of 70 million are moving to restrict residents to their homes to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. California started Friday, and New York and Illinois were to follow this weekend. Connecticut and Oregon were preparing to do the same.

Almost a week into tight restrictions on free movement and the closure of most shops in Spain, police intensified their efforts to enforce confinement rules with fines and extra patrols to stop city-dwellers with second homes in the country from leaving town for the weekend.

Spain now has the third-highest number of infections worldwide. On Saturday it reported almost 5,000 new cases in the past day, bringing the total to nearly 25,000. The death toll rose to 1,326, up from 1,002 Friday.

As hospitals and nursing homes buckle under the burden of the virus outbreak, Spanish health authorities have acknowledged that some intensive care units in the hardest-hit areas are close to their limit, and warned that they expect infections to continue to rise before measures to reverse the trend have an effect.

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.

Dr. Olga Meridiano, who treated victims of a 2004 jihadist bomb attack in Madrid that killed nearly 200 people and wounded many times more, said nothing prepared her for the national health tragedy that Spain is now enduring.

“I have been through many situations,” she said from the central city of Guadalajara, where she works in a public hospital. “But nothing is like this.”

“If we keep seeing daily increases of 23%, this cannot be withstood much longer,” Meridiano said. “We are doubling up on our shifts. We have strategies to hang in there this week, but beyond that we need the situation to improve because we professionals are bearing a lot of pressure, including emotional.”

In Germany’s southern state of Bavaria, town squares were empty. Pigeons outnumbered people in London’s usually bustling Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square a day after the British government ordered the closure of all bars, restaurants, movie theaters and other places where people congregate.

But shoppers still flocked to street markets in both countries, in a sign that restrictions were being interpreted in a patchwork fashion.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded in Africa rose above 1,000 Saturday, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 40 of Africa’s 54 countries now have cases.

Almost 287,000 cases have been confirmed globally, including more than 11,900 deaths, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 89,000 people have recovered.

For most people, the new virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority recover.

Officials in many countries are desperate to prevent — or at least limit — a repeat of what has happened in China and southern Europe. The coronavirus outbreak overwhelmed medical services in the central Chinese city of Wuhan earlier this year and now is pushing them to the limit in Italy, Spain and France.

Italy’s surging case numbers have frustrated health officials. Statements by authorities earlier on in the outbreak had raised hopes that new infections might soon start dropping off. But on Friday, officials reported further record increases, with 5,986 new cases and 627 new deaths. The country, which has Europe’s largest outbreak, now has at least 47,021 cases and 4,032 dead.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza called for a “great alliance” between citizens and institutions, saying “what counts more is the behavior of every individual.” Giuseppe Sala, mayor of Milan, capital of the hardest-stricken region of Lombardy, tried to rally the city’s 1.4 million citizens, tweeting that “by now, we have understood, this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Germany’s southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg on Saturday offered to take in patients from the neighboring French region of Alsace that’s struggling with a surge of infections overwhelming hospitals.

Britain still lags behind Italy, Spain and France in the spread of the virus, but the country’s overstretched health system is creaking. The state-funded National Health Service has about 4,000 critical-care beds and some 5,000 ventilators, and officials say that’s far fewer than will be needed as the number of cases spikes in the coming weeks. Britain, which has recorded 3,983 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 177 deaths, has already asked 65,000 retired nurses and doctors to return to work.

Workers near Moscow are rushing to build a clinic to treat hundreds of coronavirus patients as Russia prepares for a wave of infections. Placards in the style of Soviet propaganda posters have been erected near the site, with one showing Mayor Sergei Sobyanin pointing at the viewer and the slogan “Builders — Minutes count!”

China has been sending aid to several European countries, promoting its expertise and experience gained from fighting the outbreak at home. An Air China flight carrying 18 tons of medical supplies including hundreds of thousands of surgical and protection masks landed in the Greek capital, Athens, Saturday morning.

As the pandemic has eased in Asia, China and other parts of the region are now trying to avoid importing cases from Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.

China reported Saturday that its mainland had no new home-grown cases of the disease for the third straight day, but 41 imported ones in the previous 24-hour period.

Restrictions on movement are being eased gradually in China as it tries to restart the economy without bringing back the disease. Officials in Wuhan are permitting supermarkets, convenience stores and some other retail businesses to reopen from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. if they are in areas with no confirmed or suspected cases.

In the U.S., the restrictions on movement take effect Saturday in Illinois and Sunday in New York. All workers in nonessential businesses will be required to stay home and gatherings of any size are banned in New York. Exceptions will be made for important errands, such as buying groceries and medicine, and for exercise.

The lockdowns in California and other states sent stock markets tumbling again. Wall Street had its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling more than 900 points and down 17% for the week.

A Navy sailor assigned to United States Central Command headquarters in Florida has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said more than 220,000 Americans have been screened at airports while returning to the United States from coronavirus affected countries.

Car maker BMW said it would shut down a huge manufacturing complex in South Carolina from April 3 to 19 and Nissan said it would suspend vehicle production at its two Mexican assembly plants from next Wednesday through April 14. Auto production has resumed in China, but only partially.

Turkey more than tripled the number of countries to which flights have been suspended to 68, as authorities banned picnics, barbecues and send-off gatherings for new soldiers.

Authorities in Cyprus turned away a boat carrying around 100 migrants, citing government directives banning the entry of foreign nationals to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Colombian President Iván Duque announced Friday night that everyone would be required to isolate in their homes for three weeks starting Tuesday. Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela already are in lockdown.

Some small relief came to the Madrid’s Severo Ochoa hospital on Saturday when an army emergency unit arrived to take 15 patients to a huge field hospital the military set up in a convention center in the capital.

Otherwise, the hospital is working over capacity and receiving help from the local community: An educational center donated a load of masks and gloves. A group of football fan clubs brought hundreds of bottles of water.

For hospital spokesman Jorge Rivera, equally important is the support that normal citizens are showing the nation’s health workers each evening at 8 p.m. when Spaniards open their windows and applaud, shout, flash lights, and sometimes blast music to show their appreciation for their efforts.

“For us, it is a boost of adrenaline, for our morale,” Rivera said from work. “It says that we are all in this together, working to get through this emergency and recover our lives.”