Medical staff push a patient on a gurney towards a French medical helicopter to a German hospital in Essen, France. AFP
The number of confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide topped 600,000 on Saturday as new cases stacked up quickly in Europe and the United States and officials dug in for a long fight against the pandemic.
The latest landmark came only two days after the world passed half a million infections, according to a tally by John Hopkins University, showing that much work remains to be done to slow the spread of the virus. It showed more than 607,000 cases and a total of over 28,000 deaths.
While the US now leads the world in reported infections — with more than 104,000 cases — five countries exceed its roughly 1,700 deaths: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France.
"We cannot completely prevent infections at this stage, but we can and must in the immediate future achieve fewer new infections per day, a slower spread,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in quarantine at home after her doctor tested positive for the virus, told her compatriots in an audio message. "That will decide whether our health system can stand up to the virus.”
The virus already has put health systems in Italy, Spain and France under extreme strain. Lockdowns of varying severity have been introduced across Europe, nearly emptying streets in normally bustling cities, including Paris where drone photos showed the city's landmarks eerily deserted.Merkel's chief of staff, Helge Braun, said that Germany — where authorities closed nonessential shops and banned gatherings of more than two in public — won't relax its restrictions before April 20.
Spain, where stay-at-home restrictions have been in place for nearly two weeks, reported 832 more deaths on Saturday, its highest daily total yet, bringing its total to 5,690. Another 8,000 confirmed infections pushed that count above 72,000.
Doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers in its worst-hit regions are falling ill at an alarming rate and working nonstop. More than 9,000 health workers in the country have been infected.
"We are completely overwhelmed,” said ambulance medic Pablo Rojo at Barcelona’s Dos de Maig hospital. "Seven or eight (patients transported today) and all with COVID-19. ... And the average age is decreasing. They’re not 80 years old anymore, they are now 30 and 40 years old.”
"Sometimes you become a bit paranoid, you don’t know any more when you pick up the phone if you have cleaned your hands, if you’ve sanitized them or not. You touch your face with your hands,” Rojo said.
Spain has struggled to get coronavirus tests and protective gear for health workers. The government has started flights to transport the supplies directly from China to reduce waiting times.
As the epicenter has shifted westward, the situation has calmed in China, where some restrictions on people's lives have now been lifted. Six subway lines restored limited service in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December, after the city had its official coronavirus risk evaluation downgraded from high to medium on Friday. Five districts of the city of 11 million people had other restrictions on travel loosened after their risk factor was downgraded to low.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and lead to death.
More than 130,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins' tally.
In one way or another, the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak have been felt by the powerful and the poor alike.
A total of 75,538 deaths have been recorded, including 53,928 in Europe, the continent worst hit by the virus. The official tallies probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of cases. Many countries are testing only the most serious cases.
More than 242,000 people have been killed and 3.4 million infected worldwide by the virus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown and pushed the global economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression.
Worldwide, more than 788,000 people have been infected and 166,000 have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University. Italy's death toll rose to nearly 11,600 — the highest in the world by far — but its rates of new infections were slowing.
Biden said on Thursday that the risk of nuclear "Armageddon” is at the highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, as Russian officials speak of the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons after suffering massive setbacks in the eight-month invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "a guy I know fairly well” and the Russian leader was "not joking when he talks about the use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons.”
Around 100 tents were destroyed in a fire at one of the refugee camps in Lebanon on Wednesday. According to local media reports the tragic incident happened at Al Wafa refugee camp in Lebanon's Arsal region, northeast of Beirut.
In a statement, the Foundation revealed that an Emirati woman had endowed a property in the Al Nahda II area in Dubai. The property is a 12-floor-residential building consisting of 74 apartments spread over 12 floors.