Virus deaths pass 10,000 as California shuts down

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Paris, Mar 20 :  More than 10,000 people have now died in a coronavirus pandemic that has swept from China throughout the world, forcing the confinement of tens of millions in their homes.

As the virus has marched westwards, the severity of the outbreaks and the focus of concern has shifted from Asia to Europe, with increasingly tough restrictions being imposed by national governments.

The US state of California, among the worst hit in the country, has told its 40 million residents to stay at home, the most drastic move yet in the United States to combat the pandemic.

However, the California measures will not be enforced by police unlike in France, Italy, Spain and other European countries where people face fines if they break the rules.

Germany’s biggest state Bavaria on Friday became the first region in the country to order a lockdown for two weeks, imposing “fundamental restrictions” on going out.

The strict measures follow the template set by China, where a lockdown imposed in Hubei province where the new coronavirus first emerged appears to have paid off.

The country is now reporting on a handful of new infections each day, apparently from overseas visitors.

Italy is battling the single most deadly outbreak on the planet with 3,405 deaths, followed by 3,248 in China and Iran with 1,433, according to an AFP tally of official data.

Europe now accounts for half of the 10,000 fatalities linked to the COVID-19 disease around the world.

However, accurate figures are difficult to come by as many of those who die are suffering from other illnesses and infection rates are uncertain because of a lack of testing in many countries.

The United States is showing signs that it is ramping up its efforts on all fronts, fast-tracking antimalarial drugs for use as a treatment against the virus and promising a USD 1 trillion emergency relief package to combat the economic turmoil.

The package — coupled with a European Central Bank plan to buy 750 billion euros in bonds — saw stock markets rebound on Friday with exchanges up throughout Asia and Europe.

US President Donald Trump, who has come under fire for his response to the crisis, said on Thursday that US officials would make antimalarials chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine available “almost immediately”.

Experts are divided over whether the drugs are suitable though, having undergone only the briefest of clinical trials.

German and American drug firms are frantically trying to synthesise treatments for the disease and Chinese scientists are also carrying out clinical trials, though no studies have yet been published.

Trump also sparked an international row after he accused the Chinese of being secretive over its initial spread and severity, saying the world is now “paying a big price”.

Chinse foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang hit back, saying “some people” were trying to “stigmatise” China’s fight against the virus.

“This approach ignores the great sacrifice made by the Chinese people to safeguard the health and safety of humankind, and slanders China’s major contribution to global public health,” he said.

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