Europe

Confirmed coronavirus cases top one million worldwide as Spain, Britain see record deaths

Aid workers from the Spanish NGO Open Arms carry out coronavirus detection tests on the elderly at a nursing home in Barcelona, Spain. Source: AAP

Since emerging in China in December, COVID-19 has infected more than a million people - including at least 540,000 in Europe - and claimed more than 51,000 lives.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world soared past one million on Thursday and deaths topped 50,000 as Europe reeled from the pandemic and the United States reported the highest daily death toll so far of any country.

Despite more than half the planet imposing some form of lockdown, the virus claimed thousands more lives, with the US, Spain and Britain seeing the highest number of daily fatalities yet.

A public service sign reading 'Stay Home, Save Lives' is displayed on a road in London, Britain, 02 April 2020.
A public service sign reading 'Stay Home, Save Lives' is displayed on a road in London, Britain, 02 April 2020.
AAP

And it continued to wreak havoc on the global economy, with the US announcing that a record 6.65 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week and Spain reporting its biggest monthly increase in jobless claims ever.

Since emerging in China in December, COVID-19 has infected more than a million people - including at least 540,000 in Europe - and claimed more than 51,000 lives, according to a tally by AFP from official sources.

World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there had been a "near exponential growth" in new cases and that the number of infected would hit a million within days. 

The crisis has put enormous strain on national health care systems and on nurses, doctors and other medical staff working in the most difficult of circumstances.

"Every morning before I start work, I make the sign of the cross, and pray that everything will go all right," Ester Piccinini, a 27-year-old nurse at the Humanitas Gavazzeni hospital in Bergamo, northern Italy, told AFP.

"It's not really for myself, I'm not really worried about me, since I'm so protected. But I hope everything will be all right for my patients."

A view of a temporary field hospital set at Ifema convention and exhibition of in Madrid, Spain.
A view of a temporary field hospital set at Ifema convention and exhibition of in Madrid, Spain.

'Slowdown' in Spain

Europe has been at the centre of the crisis for weeks, with at least 37,000 now dead, but there have been signs the epidemic could be approaching its peak.

Spain, with 950 new deaths in 24 hours, and Britain, with 569 deaths, saw record numbers of new fatalities on Thursday.

France recorded 471 hospital deaths, down from the previous day, but also announced a new figure of 884 deaths in old people's homes since the epidemic began.

Italy registered 760 new deaths, with its numbers continuing to fall. 

The number of confirmed Spanish cases also passed the 110,000 mark, the government said, although the rates of both new infections and deaths continued a downward trend.

"The data show the curve has stabilised" and the epidemic has entered a "slowdown" phase, Health Minister Salvador Illa said.

The virus has chiefly affected the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions, but recent cases have highlighted that it can kill people of all ages.

Healthcare workers gather during meeting to discuss COVID-19 procedures in Barcelona, Spain.
Healthcare workers gather during meeting to discuss COVID-19 procedures in Barcelona, Spain.
AAP

The dead have included a six-week-old baby in the US, a 16-year-old in France, a 12-year-old in Belgium and a 13-year-old in Britain. 

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin extended a period of paid non-working days until the end of April as the number of confirmed cases jumped by more than a quarter on Thursday to 3,548, with 30 deaths. 

Most of the Russian population is on lockdown, with Moscow, in particular, facing tough isolation rules. 

Thailand became the latest country to impose strict measures with the introduction of a curfew from Friday, pushing the number of people in confinement to 3.9 billion, or half the world's population.

'Horrific' days ahead

The United States, which now accounts for almost a quarter of reported global infections, saw its death toll pass 5,000 by the early hours of Thursday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

US President Donald Trump, who was criticised for initially playing down the virus but has stepped up containment efforts, warned that the situation was going to get much worse.

"We're going to have a couple of weeks, starting pretty much now, but especially a few days from now, that are going to be horrific," he said.

Medical personnel wearing personal protective equipment remove bodies in New York.
Medical personnel wearing personal protective equipment remove bodies in New York.
AAP

"But even in the most challenging of times, Americans do not despair. We do not give in to fear."

100,000 body bags

Around 85 per cent of Americans are under confinement but there have been warnings of a staggering US death toll, even with mitigation efforts in force.

On Thursday the US disaster response agency FEMA asked the American military for 100,000 body bags.

The virus and the measures taken to contain it have raised fears of the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The US Labour Department said Thursday that the figure of 6.65 million workers who filed for unemployment benefits last week was double the number registered in the previous week, and the most ever recorded.

Economists are warning that US job losses could surge to the previously unimaginable range of 10 to 20 million in April.

Spain, the eurozone's fourth-largest economy, also registered a leap of 302,265 jobless claims last month after imposing a nationwide lockdown since 14 March.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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