Italy, Iran and the US have reported soaring new death tolls as the coronavirus pandemic marches relentlessly across the globe, prompting a scramble to set up more hospital beds and replenish dwindling medical supplies.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte went on live TV to announce he is tightening the country’s lockdown and shutting down all production facilities except those providing essential goods and services.
“We are facing the most serious crisis that the country has experienced since World War II,” Conte told Italians during a broadcast at midnight local time.
As bodies piled up in Italian hospitals, morgues and churches, and as medical workers pleaded for more help, there was no sign that Italy was yet taming its arc of contagion.
Italy now has 53,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4825 deaths – more than all of China, where the virus first emerged late last year.
The US government’s top infectious disease expert said on Sunday he remains hopeful his country is not on the same trajectory as Italy in the coronavirus struggle.
However the mayor of New York City told people at the epicenter of the US pandemic that it’s only going to get worse.
Mayor Bill de Blasio told NBC his city is in desperate need of ventilators and other medical supplies and staff, and lambasted the White House as non-responsive.
He said he asked “repeatedly” for the US military to mobilise, and heard nothing back.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he expects Congress and the White House to reach full agreement later on Sunday on an economic stimulus package.
The measures could approach $US2 trillion to address the coronavirus crisis, including $US3000 ($A5000) cheques to families and other aid to last the next 10 weeks.
Nationwide, there were at least 26,747 cases and 374 deaths as the US overtook Germany as the country with the fourth-highest number of cases.
Germany is banning public meetings of more than two people outside of work, for a period of at least two weeks.
Meanwhile during his weekly Sunday blessing, which is being streamed online, Pope Francis urged all Christians to join in reciting the “Our Father” prayer on Wednesday at noon.
Francis said he would also lead a global blessing to an empty St Peter’s Square on Friday.
The “Urbi et Orbi” blessing is normally reserved for Christmas Day and Easter.
In Britain, almost 4000 medical workers signed a letter to the Sunday Times warning that doctors and nurses in the National Health Service would die if they did not receive better protective equipment.
Iran’s supreme leader refused US assistance to fight the virus, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that the illness could be made by America.
Iran says it has 1685 deaths and 21,638 confirmed cases of the virus – a toll that experts from the World Health Organisation say is almost certainly under-reported.
Worldwide, more than 316,000 people have been infected and nearly 13,600 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.