Italy has extended its lockdown until 13 April but recorded its lowest death toll in more than a week, reinforcing indications that the coronavirus epidemic both there and in Spain may be reaching a plateau.
“Experts say we are on the right track and the drastic measures we have taken are starting to yield results,” said the health minister, Roberto Speranza. He warned, though, that it would be “unforgivable to assume this was a definitive defeat” of Covid-19 and it would be “a long battle”.
What is Covid-19?
It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals.
What are the symptoms this coronavirus causes?
The virus can cause pneumonia-like symptoms. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties.
In the UK, the National Heath Service has defined the symptoms as:
- a high temperature - you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
- a new continuous cough - this means you've started coughing repeatedly
Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?
Medical advice varies around the world - with many countries imposing travel bans and lockdowns to try and prevent the spread of the virus. In many place people are being told to stay at home rather than visit a doctor of hospital in person. Check with your local authorities.
In the UK, NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days. If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.
How many people have been affected?
China’s national health commission confirmed human-to-human transmission in January. As of 31 March, more than 780,000 people have been infected in more than 170 countries, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
There have been over 37,800 deaths globally. Just over 3,200 of those deaths have occurred in mainland China. Italy has been worst affected, with over 11,500 fatalities, and there have been over 7,700 deaths in Spain. The US now has more confirmed cases than any other country - more than 164,000. Many of those who have died had underlying health conditions, which the coronavirus complicated.
More than 166,000 people are recorded as having recovered from the coronavirus.
How Europe sleepwalked into the COVID-19 crisis
Italy’s civil protection authority announced on Wednesday that the country’s tally – already the highest in the world – had climbed by 727 deaths to 13,155, and that the number of confirmed infections, including deaths, recovered and current cases, had risen by 4,782, taking the total to 110,574.
But the daily rise in the number of deaths was sharply down on Tuesday’s figure of 837, and the 2,937 new active cases represented an increase of 3.8% – more than the previous day, but confirming a declining trend. Two weeks ago, infections were rising at between three and four times that rate.
“The curve tells us that we’re at a plateau,” Silvio Brusaferro, the president of Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS), said earlier on Wednesday. “That doesn’t mean we’ve hit the peak and that it’s over, but that we must start the descent … by applying the measures in force.”
According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, the pandemic has infected more than 870,000 people worldwide and killed more than 43,000. Nearly half the world’s population are living under some form of requested or mandatory confinement.
While China, where the outbreak originated, continues to report almost no domestic transmissions, a US intelligence report to the White House suggested Beijing was underreporting the numbers of both total cases and deaths the country has suffered.
Three unnamed security officials told Bloomberg the secret report alleged that China’s reporting of virus data was intentionally incomplete, and two of them said the report concluded that China’s numbers were fake. Deborah Birx, the state department immunologist advising the White House, said on Tuesday she thought that “probably we were missing a significant amount of the data, now that what we see happened to Italy and see what happened to Spain”.
Spain, which crossed the threshold of 100,000 confirmed cases on Wednesday and reported another record single-day death toll of 864, is now following a similar pattern to Italy, with officials saying on Wednesday they were starting to see a “trend change”. The two countries have the highest global death tolls in the pandemic.
Between 15 and 25 March, new cases in Spain were growing at a rate of 20% a day. From 25 March, that rate dropped to 12% and lower. María José Sierra of Spain’s centre for health emergencies said the latest figures indicated the increase in new cases was continuing to level out.
“Generally speaking, we can say that yesterday’s rise in cases, which was around 8%, tells us that we’re carrying on in the stabilisation phase of the pandemic,” Sierra told a press conference.
In the US, meanwhile, deaths from the coronavirus topped 1,000 in New York City as authorities warned that the worst was yet to come, while Florida officials were locked in a standoff with two cruise ships steaming toward the coast.
In California, the number of people being taken to hospital nearly doubled over the past four days and the number of intensive care patients tripled. US deaths, which have exceeded those in China, could reach 240,000, according to the White House, with Donald Trump warning the country should expect a “very, very painful two weeks”.
In other developments:
France reported 509 deaths on Wednesday, its highest daily number since the epidemic began, bringing the toll to 4,032. The number of confirmed cases rose by 4,861 to 56,989.
A specially adapted TGV train evacuated 36 patients from Paris to Brittany. France has 5,565 coronavirus patients in intensive care and greater Paris is nearing capacity.
South Korea has received requests from 121 countries for help with coronavirus testing, its foreign ministry said.
The heads of three global agencies warned of the risk of a worldwide food shortage if authorities failed to manage the crisis properly.
Vladimir Putin is handling duties remotely after meeting a doctor who has since been diagnosed with the virus as Moscow rolled out an app and scannable barcodes to check whether people were obeying isolation rules.
Saudi Arabia urged Muslims to wait before making hajj plans until there is more clarity about the pandemic.
Japan, which reported 2,200 confirmed cases and 66 deaths, remains on the brink of a state of emergency as the rate of infections rises, officials said.
The death toll in Iran has reached 3,036, with 47,593 confirmed infections.
As equipment shortages continue to hamper Europe’s response to the pandemic, France, which on Tuesday announced 499 new deaths, its biggest increase since the start of the pandemic, said it would invest €4bn (£3.5bn) in “strategic” health products including masks and respirators, with the aim of making the country “fully and completely self-sufficient” by the end of this year.
“We have to produce in France, on our territory, from now on,” said the president, Emmanuel Macron. “Certain products and certain materials have a strategic importance and we need Europe to be independent to reduce our dependence. The day after the epidemic will not be like the day before; we must rebuild our national and European sovereignty.”
Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, said physical distancing measures would be maintained until 19 April and re-evaluated after Easter. Speaking after a telephone conference with the premiers of Germany’s 16 states, which have registered 71,000 cases and 775 deaths, Merkel said it was too soon to talk about easing them.
The chancellor’s caution comes amid a growing sense that the relatively stable situation in German hospitals could be about to become a lot more serious as the virus moves on to the elderly population. Reports from around the country suggest several outbreaks in care homes for elderly people.