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Spain, Italy demand EU virus help

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Two countries account for more than half of the world's death toll

Pallbearers stand outside the Monumentale cemetery, in Bergamo, the heart of the hardest-hit province in Italys hardest-hit region of Lombardy. Picture: AP

SPAIN and Italy have demanded more European help as they fight still-surging coronavirus infections in the continent’s worst crisis since World War II. In the US, authorities urged millions around New York City to stop travelling to keep the virus contained.

Around the world, Spain and Italy alone account for more than half of the world’s death toll, and are still seeing over 800 deaths a day each.

Experts say, however, that virus toll numbers across the world are being seriously under-represented because of limited testing and political decisions about which bodies to count. Unlike the US, France and Italy do not count deaths that take place at home or in nursing homes, even though nursing homes are known coronavirus incubators around the world.

”Europe must demonstrate that it is able to respond to this historic call,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said late Saturday. “I will fight until the last drop of sweat, until the last gram of energy, to obtain a strong, vigorous, cohesive European response.”

US President Donald Trump backtracked on a threat to quarantine New York and neighbouring states amid criticism and questions about the legality of such a move. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory urging all residents of New York City and others in New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut to avoid all non-essential travel for 14 days.

Shocking as that is for Americans, that stopped short of the restrictions imposed in Europe or elsewhere. Parisians are fined if they try to leave the city, South Africans can’t even buy liquor, and Serbians are upset over a ban on walking their dog. In Italy, burials are being held with only one family member.

Spain moved to tighten its lockdown and ban all non-essential work on Sunday as it hit another daily record of 838 dead. The country’s overall official toll was more than 6 500.

Spain’s health emergencies chief, Fernando Simon, said the country’s infection rate fell on Sunday to 9%, down from 18% three days before. But he said the number of people in intensive care units keeps rising and hospitals are at their limits in several regions.

“That is why we have to strictly apply the control measures,” he said.

The crisis is pummelling world economies and putting huge strains on national health care systems. 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called for a more vigorous response from the 27-nation European Union.

“It is the most difficult moment for the EU since its foundation and it has to be ready to rise to the challenge,” he said.

Spain, Italy, France and six other EU members have asked the union to share the burden by issuing European debt, dubbed coronabonds, to help fight the virus. But the idea has met resistance from Germany and the Netherlands.

European countries have also resisted sharing masks with their neighbours for fear that they, too, will need them in mass quantities soon. Many countries have turned to China, where the outbreak is easing, flying in cargo planes to get protective medical equipment.

These tensions have raised new fears about whether the EU will survive this crisis.

“It’s really, really important that we achieve better co-ordination,” German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said.

Worldwide infections surpassed 680 000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The United States leads the world with about 125 000 reported cases, but five other countries have higher death tolls: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France.

Egypt shut its beaches as cases in the Middle East surpassed 50 000. Police in the Philippines stepped up arrests of quarantine violators, and more tourists were evacuated from Mount Everest and the Indonesian island of Bali.

Poland is considering delaying its May 10 presidential election, and Russia ordered borders to close on Monday. A prominent French politician with the virus died, France’s first death of a senior official.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has the virus himself, warned: “Things will get worse before they get better.”

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 145 000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins.

Pope Francis on Sunday called for a cease-fire in all conflicts around the globe ”to focus together on the true fight of our lives”. He also urged authorities to take special care of those in nursing homes, military barracks and jails.

As others tightened controls, China eased more restrictions, following the ruling Communist Party’s declaration of victory over the coronavirus. Airline flights from Hubei province at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak resumed on Sunday. Subway and bus service resumed on Saturday in the province’s hard-hit capital of Wuhan.

– AP