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Firemen remove protective gear from medical staff after they load a COVID-19 patient onto a French Air Force plane at the Bale-Mulhouse airport © AFP / SEBASTIEN BOZON


Global virus cases near million as US records youngest death

A woman in Buenos Aires, Argentina claps her hands to express gratitude to health workers, a nightly tradition during the “preventative and compulsory” lockdown © AFP / JUAN MABROMATA

New York, United States, Apr 1 – A six-week-old baby died of COVID-19 and global agencies warned of food shortages as coronavirus infections around the world neared one million Wednesday.

Governments expanded lockdowns to affect about half of the planet, with funeral parties banned in the Democratic Republic of Congo, New York locking up its famed street basketball courts and hard-hit Italy extending its economically crippling lockdown until April 13.

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.

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

Firemen remove protective gear from medical staff after they load a COVID-19 patient onto a French Air Force plane at the Bale-Mulhouse airport © AFP / SEBASTIEN BOZON

“I am deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection,” he said.

“The entire world is shut down,” said US President Donald Trump. “It’s very sad.”

– Youngest victim –

Cases in the United States soared, rising to more than 213,000, the most anywhere in the world. The death toll in the US over the past 24 hours was a new one-day record of 884, and new known cases exceeded 25,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.

“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. But even in the most challenging of times, Americans do not despair. We do not give in to fear,” Trump told an evening news conference.

Among the victims was a six-week-old in Connecticut who was brought unresponsive to a hospital late last week, believed to be the youngest victim yet of the virus.

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Number of deaths linked to the coronavirus, officially announced by countries, as of April 1, 2020 at 1900 GMT © AFP / Simon MALFATTO

“Testing confirmed last night that the newborn was COVID-19 positive,” Governor Ned Lamont wrote on Twitter. “This is absolutely heartbreaking.”

The victims of the new coronavirus have been disproportionately elderly, 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 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdullah in Britain, whose family said the “gentle and kind” boy had no underlying health issues.

– Tightening curbs –

The US numbers continued to outpace the rest of the globe, though Washington made clear it believes China, with a reported 82,000 cases, is deliberately masking its figures.

“How do we know” if they are accurate, Trump asked at a press conference, not denying a Bloomberg report that US intelligence has concluded China is concealing the extent of the coronavirus pandemic there.

“Their numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side,” Trump said.

A person plays basketball alone on March 17, 2020 in New York © AFP/File / Angela Weiss

Densely populated New York continued to be the US epicenter.

Across the city, refrigerated trucks grimly parked outside hospitals to deal with the surge in bodies.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced he was closing all playgrounds and basketball courts to enforce “social distancing” to halt transmission.

“You still see too many situations with too much density by young people,” he said. “No density, no basketball games.”

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In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis ordered all 21 million residents of the Sunshine State to stay inside for one month, after having resisted a lockdown for weeks.

The underground entrance of the German armed forces’ Bundeswehr’s supply and repair center for medical supplies in Blankenburg/Harz © AFP / JENS SCHLUETER

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 recognize holidays,” she said.

In Greece, too, the Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod said all churches were to remain closed over the Easter period, the biggest celebration of the year that culminates on April 19.

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.

Military personnel in Honduras make face masks in the capital Tegucigalpa for members of the health sector who are on the frontline in the fight against the novel coronavirus © AFP / Orlando SIERRA

Dwellers of South Africa’s townships say it is simply impossible to stay at home.

“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 Food and Agriculture Organization, WHO and World Trade Organization warned in a joint statement that panic buying already seen in parts of the world could threaten food supplies.

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

Mumbai police order people to do sit-ups as punishment for going out without a valid reason during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in India © AFP / INDRANIL MUKHERJEE

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.

– Spain infections peak? –

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, and 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.

In Spain, deaths passed 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 it appeared the country may have passed the peak.

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