Italy has shut all non-essential factories as the country takes increasingly drastic measures to halt the epidemic that claimed another 793 lives on Saturday to take the the national death toll to 4,825.
In a dramatic late-night television address on Saturday, Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, warned the nation was facing its gravest crisis since the second world war and said all non-essential businesses must close until 3 April.
“The decision taken by the government is to close down all productive activity throughout the territory that is not strictly necessary, crucial, indispensable, to guarantee us essential goods and services,” Conte said
Groceries and pharmacies would remain open and although he did not specify and what “indispensable” companies were, he was expected to release a decree on Sunday explaining his plans.
“We will slow down the country’s productive engine, but we will not stop it,” Conte said.
The Russian military will start sending medical help to Italy from Sunday in order to help it battle the coronavirus, Moscow’s defence ministry said in a statement.
President Vladimir Putin spoke to Conte on Saturday, the Kremlin said, saying the Russian leader had offered his support and help in the form of mobile disinfection vehicles and specialists to help the worst hit Italian regions.
Italy now accounts for more than a third of the world’s total of around 13,000 deaths. It has the second-highest number of cases with 53,578 out of the global total of more than 307,000.
China, which recorded its first new domestic case for four days, still has the most cases with 81,346, according to Johns Hopkins University but the United States has the third-highest number of cases.
The US has 85 million people subject to stay at home orders after New Jersey on Saturday joined New York, Connecticut, Illinois and California in ordering people to stay inside. The US saw cases jump sharply again on Saturday and it now has a total of 26,747 and 340 deaths.
As concerns mount about the impact of the outbreak on the world’s number one economy, Congressional leaders and White House officials were in talks about launching a $1 trillion stimulus package.
“They’re all negotiating and everybody’s working hard and they want to get to a solution that’s the right solution, I think we’re very close,” said Donald Trump, who continued to strike a confident tone about the nation’s ability to defeat the pandemic soon.
“We are going to be celebrating a great victory in the not too distant future,” he said, although he also continued to lash out at what he described as “inaccurate” reporting of his government’s handling of the crisis.
Italian health officials looked stony-faced as they read out the latest bad news in a daily update. National health institute (ISS) chief Silvio Brusaferro urged the elderly to stay in doors at all times. The average age of Italy’s victims was 78.5.
“If you do not follow all the (government) measures, you make everything more difficult,” Italy’s top medical expert said. “If you do, we can make this outbreak slow down.”
But the Italian government appears intent on making more or less everyone stay in doors as much as possible at any cost.
Police squads in Rome were checking documents and fining those outside without a valid excuse.
Those who were out shopping were forced to wait in line at the entrance to make sure the store was filled with only a handful of people at a time. Joggers were asked to limit their runs to laps around the block.
People out for a walk were fined if they broke the rules and wondered into a park or stopped to take pictures of historic scenes of a city without any people.
Conte’s government is betting that this approach will work but Italy is setting some unenviable records, with Saturday’s jump in infections of 6,557 just the latest one and beating the one set the day before.
Italy’s first weeks of the crisis were marked by periodic record death tolls that would come twice or three times a week. The country has been setting them every day since Wednesday and the jumps are getting exponentially bigger.
There was alarm in the UK where military planners are being drafted in to coordinate food supplies and when people flocked to the seaside town of Skegness in violation of the nationwide orders to stay at home.
The outbreak was gathering strength in every other region of the world.
In Latin America, Mexican health authorities said on Saturday that there were 251 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, 48 more cases than a day earlier.
Colombia has recorded its first death, a taxi driver who carried two Italians in his cab earlier this month before becoming ill. In Argentina, the government is considering declaring a “state of siege”, the security minister said, in order to enforce its nationwide lockdown.
In Asia Pacific the situation also appeared to worsen outside China.
In India, the government launched a 14-hour curfew running from 7am to 9pm local time (01.30 to 15.30GMT) in an effort to limit the spread of the virus which has now infected 315 people. India has a population of almost 1.4 billion.
Another 188 cases were recorded in Thailand on Sunday, its largest daily increase, taking the total to 599 cases, a senior health official said. “Most of the new cases were found in Bangkok and were among young people who continue to have social activities, which can lead to more infections,” a helth official said, urging the public to stay home.
Singapore has banned the entry and transit of visitors.
Australians have been told not to travel anywhere in the country unless it is essential. The country saw its biggest leap in cases so far partly due to 18 cases on a cruise ship in Sydney. Scott Morrison, the prime minister, said even more draconian measures were on their way such as localised suburban lockdowns. He added that the scenes of hundreds of people at Bondi beach on Friday were “not OK”. The famous Sydney beach has now been closed.
The Pacific nations have recorded their first Covid-19 death after a 68-year-old woman died in Guam.
South Korea reported 98 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, bringing national infections to 8,897, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.The daily tally showed a continued downward trend in new cases, despite a slight jump on Saturday. The Philippines’ health ministry has confirmed 73 new cases, bringing the country’s total to 380.