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Global lockdown tightens as virus deaths mount


AFP Paris
Harsh lockdowns aimed at halting the march of the coronavirus has extended worldwide as the death toll soared past 35,000 and new waves of US outbreaks pushed the nation's containment efforts to the brink.
Despite slivers of hope in stricken Italy and Spain, the tough measures that have confined some two-fifths of the globe's population to their homes were broadened.
Moscow and Lagos joined the roll call of cities around the globe on Monday with eerily empty streets, while Virginia, Maryland and Kansas became the latest US states to announce emergency stay-at-home orders.
The capital city Washington followed suit.
In a symbol of the scale of the challenge facing humanity, a US military medical ship sailed into New York to relieve the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals bracing for the peak of the pandemic.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world topped 750,000, with 413,000 of those in Europe, while most of the confirmed deaths are also from the continent, according to an AFP tally.
World leaders -- several of whom have been stricken or forced into isolation -- are still grappling for ways to deal with a crisis that will have economic and social shockwaves unseen since World War II.
US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed "closer cooperation" on the pandemic and talked about plunging oil prices in a telephone call on Monday, the Kremlin said.
The US Navy's USNS Comfort, which has space for 1,000 beds and a dozen operating rooms, docked just a day after Trump extended social-distancing measures in the United States until the end of April.
"It will be good for morale," said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio of the arrival of the Comfort, which will help people requiring intensive care unrelated to coronavirus, easing the burden on an overwhelmed hospital network.
In Russia, Putin urged residents of Moscow to "very seriously" respect a lockdown that has seen the closure of all non-essential shops, including restaurants and cafes, in Europe's largest city.
Red Square in the heart of Moscow was deserted and the surrounding streets were quiet.
Anna, a 36-year-old web designer, said the lockdown would be hard for her and her five-year-old daughter. "But I don't want Arina to get sick," she told AFP while on her way to buy bread. "So of course we will observe the quarantine."

Fears of a rise in cases drove Moscow to follow Italy, Spain and France in imposing full lockdowns, and Europe remains the epicentre of the pandemic with the death toll there passing 26,500 on Monday, according to an AFP tally.
After weeks of life spent under a national lockdown in Italy, signs were emerging that its drastic actions could slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Even though the country's death toll grew by 812 in 24 hours to 11,591, figures from the civil protection service showed the rate of new COVID-19 infections hitting a new low of just 4.1 per cent and the number of people who had recovered reached a new high.
"The data are better but our work continues," said Giulio Gallera, the chief medical officer of Lombardy, Italy's worst-hit region.
Spain also announced another 812 virus deaths in 24 hours.
The country meanwhile joined the United States and Italy in surpassing the number of cases in China, where the disease first emerged in December in the city of Wuhan.
France however reported its highest daily number of deaths since the outbreak began, saying 418 more people had died in hospital.
Britain and Italy both warned at the weekend that measures to prevent disease spread would be in place for months to come.
In Britain COVID-19 has hit high profile figures including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and heir to the throne Prince Charles, who was out of virus isolation, according to royal officials.
In Israel, meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the latest world leader to enter isolation and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's third coronavirus test came back negative.
The lockdowns are causing hardship across the world but particularly in impoverished cities in Africa and Asia.
Africa's biggest city, Lagos, was due to join the global stay-at-home from Monday, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordering a two-week lockdown for its 20 million people. The measures, in force from 2200 GMT, also apply to the capital Abuja.
"Two weeks is too long. I don't know how we will cope," said student Abdul Rahim, 25, as he helped his sister sell food from a market stall. Zimbabwe also began enforcing a three-week lockdown in the impoverished southern African country.
"They need to be fed, but there is nothing to eat," vegetable vendor Irene Ruwisi said in the township of Mbare, pointing at her four grandchildren. "How do they expect us to survive?" The shutdown has already put millions out of work and forced governments to rush through huge stimulus plans.
Experts in Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, said the virus would shrink output there this year by up to 5.4 per cent.
In the US, more than two thirds of the population were under lockdown orders, as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections topped 159,000, a global high, and deaths approached 3,000.
For Louisiana, where the city of New Orleans is a coronavirus hot spot, Governor John Bel Edwards signalled the worst may be yet to come.
"We are nowhere near over the hump. We still have an awful lot of work to do to flatten the curve," he said, adding that a crisis loomed with needs for ventilators expected to exceed capacity on April 5.

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First Published: Mar 31 2020 | 8:10 AM IST

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