Global cases near million as US sees youngest Covid-19 death

A funeral director and a Wycoff Heights Medical Center employee transport a body yesterday in New York. (AP pic)

NEW YORK: The world was quickly approaching one million confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday as a six-week-old baby died in the United States in what was believed to be the pandemic’s youngest victim.

As governments expanded lockdowns that have affected half the planet, global agencies warned that parts of the world could face food shortages if authorities fail to navigate the crisis properly.

More than 900,000 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus and nearly 46,000 have died since it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, according to an AFP tally based on official numbers.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), said the number would hit one million “in the next few days”.

“I am deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection,” he told a virtual news conference.

The United States accounts for the most cases, with a database at Johns Hopkins University saying that infections have topped 200,000 with at least 4,600 dead.

Among the dead was a six-week-old in Connecticut who was brought unresponsive to a hospital late last week.

“Testing confirmed last night that the newborn was Covid-19 positive,” Governor Ned Lamont wrote on Twitter.

“This is absolutely heartbreaking. We believe this is one of the youngest lives lost anywhere due to complications relating to Covid-19,” he said.

The victims of the new coronavirus have been disproportionately elderly, with horror stories emerging from hard-hit Italy and Spain of isolated seniors found dead and alone.

But a number of recent cases have highlighted that the disease can befall even youngsters with seemingly strong immune systems.

The dead have included a 13-year-old in France, a 12-year-old in Belgium and a 13-year-old in Britain – identified as Ismail Mohamed Abdullah, whose family said the “gentle and kind” boy had no underlying health issues.

Illinois reported the death of a nine-month-old, although investigators were still determining whether it was directly linked to the coronavirus.

Tightening curbs

An entrance to Florida’s famed South Beach is closed on Tuesday. (AP pic)

New York, by far the most densely populated part of the United States, has become the country’s epicentre of the coronavirus, with refrigerated trucks grimly parked outside of hospitals to deal with the surge in bodies.

New York announced it was closing all playgrounds and basketball courts to enforce orders of “social distancing” to halt transmission through people in close proximity.

“You still see too many situations with too much density by young people. Compliance is still not where it should be,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters.

“Use the open space in a park, walk around, get some sun. Great. No density, no basketball games,” he said.

In the latest stay-at-home order, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he would order all 21 million residents of the Sunshine State to stay inside for one month.

Like President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, DeSantis had initially resisted drastic curbs on the population before coming around to public health experts’ recommendations.

Germany extended to April 19 its bans on gatherings of more than two people outdoors, with Chancellor Angela Merkel warning that families may not be able to visit during Easter celebrations.

“A pandemic does not recognise holidays,” she said.

The global crisis wiped more major events off the calendar with Wimbledon, the signature event of tennis, cancelled for the first time since World War II.

And in a sign of shifting focus, Britain said that UN climate talks due in November in Glasgow were being postponed.

Warnings of shortages

Lockdowns have been especially challenging in developing countries, with some of the world’s poorest fearing they could lose their livelihoods entirely.

Dwellers of South Africa’s townships say it is simply impossible to stay at home despite a 21-day lockdown ordered last week.

“We don’t have toilets … we don’t have water, so you must go out,” said Irene Tsetse, 55, who shares a one-bedroom shack in Khayelitsha township with her son.

The heads of three global agencies – the Food and Agricultural Organization, WHO and World Trade Organization – said that panic buying already seen in parts of the world could be an omen.

“Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market,” they said in a joint statement.

In Italy, half a million more people require help to afford meals, adding to the 2.7 million already in need last year, according to the country’s biggest agricultural union Coldiretti.

“Usually we serve 152,525 people. But now we’ve 70,000 more requests,” said Roberto Tuorto, who runs a food aid association.

It is crucial to “ensure that the economic crisis unleashed by the virus doesn’t become a security crisis”, he warned.

Mixed news in Europe

Britain and France both reported their highest daily death tolls from Covid-19, although there were signs that the epidemic could be peaking in Europe.

Italy’s death toll, the highest in the world, climbed past 13,000 as the government extended its lockdown until April 13.

“If we start loosening our measures now, all our efforts will have been in vain,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the nation in a televised address.

Mixed news came from Spain, which has the second highest toll. Its deaths surged past 9,000 on Wednesday – but the rate of new cases continued to slow.

Fernando Simon, head of the health ministry’s emergency coordination unit, said that the main priority was now to ensure that the health system can treat everyone.

“Right now the central issue is not whether we have reached the peak or not; it seems we’re already there, and the numbers are going down,” said Simon, who himself has tested positive for the virus.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who has tested positive – came under fire even from normally friendly media for the lack of testing.

Britain has tested 153,000 people since the pandemic emerged, almost entirely hospital patients, compared with 70,000 tests each day in Germany.

Wary of a collapse of the world’s economy, central banks have pumped billions in liquidity into the system.

But with the spread of the virus far from abating, key markets were again battered. Wall Street’s benchmark Dow Jones index tumbled 4.4%, a grim start to April after a brutal first quarter.

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