People in various countries face restrictions on movement amid a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19. Image by EPA PHOTO

Health

US prepares stimulus as India in lockdown

2020-03-27 06:20:34

The coronavirus outbreak has hit home among the well-born and the desperately poor alike as Britain’s Prince Charles tested positive and India’s 1.3 billion people, or one-sixth of the Earth’s population, found themselves under lockdown.

Meanwhile, US politicians agreed on a mammoth economic relief package, buoying stock markets around the world and President Donald Trump said he wants to see the country get back to business in a matter of weeks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin postponed a country-wide vote on proposed constitutional amendments that could enable him to extend his hold on power.

And in Spain, the death toll eclipsed that of China, where the outbreak was first recorded. Spain is now second only to Italy in the number of dead, with more than 3400.

“If we are not already at the peak, we are very close,” said Fernando Simon, head of Spain’s health emergency co-ordination centre. “I cannot say that we have reached it.”

Even once the numbers crest, it would be “counterproductive” to think about relaxing restrictions anytime soon, he added.

More than 435,000 people worldwide have been infected and the number of dead closed in on 20,000, according to the running count kept by Johns Hopkins University. Overall, more than 100,000 have recovered.

In the United States, infections were climbing rapidly and had passed the 55,000 mark, with deaths approaching 800.

Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced a $US2 trillion ($A3.4 trillion) economic agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight after days of haggling.

The plan would support businesses through the crisis and give households one-time payments of $US1,200 per adult and $US500 per child.

Relief that US politicians have reached a deal on economic support pushed world stock markets up on Wednesday.

Indexes in Europe and Asia rose a day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average had its best day since 1933.

Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” on April 12, but that statement sharply contradicted health officials’ calls for tighter restrictions on people’s movements.

Scientists and other politicians in the US have warned that the worst is yet to come.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state’s infections are doubling every three days, threatening to swamp the city’s intensive care units. The state has 26,000 infections and more than 200 deaths.

“One of the forecasters said to me: ‘We were looking at a freight train coming across the country,'” the governor said. “We’re now looking at a bullet train.”

In Spain, deaths shot up by more than 700 in a day. The country said it is buying 432 million euros ($A784 million) of medical supplies from China, including 500 million masks, 5.5 million fast test kits and 950 ventilators.

Spanish media reported that 23 residents of a Madrid retirement home died from COVID-19 or symptoms related to the virus.

The home’s management said it had been pleading for more staff and supplies, including virus tests, after 55 of its workers had been forced to take medical leave.

Meanwhile, Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, is showing mild symptoms of the virus and is isolating himself at a royal estate in Scotland, his office said, adding that his wife Camilla has tested negative.

India has reported only about 450 cases because of limited testing but Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned that if he didn’t act now, the virus could set the world’s largest democracy back decades.

Everything but essential services like supermarkets were closed. Normally busy railway stations in New Delhi were deserted and streets were eerily silent.

Italy has been the hardest-hit country in Europe with more than 69,000 infections and 6800 deaths.

Authorities are investigating if a hotly contested Champions League soccer game in Milan in February poured rocket fuel on the crisis that is overwhelming Italian hospitals. Italian doctors are being forced to choose who will receive desperately needed ventilators and who won’t.

Germany’s parliament approved a series of measures to allow the government to offer business aid totalling more than 1 trillion euros for the country of 83 million people.

There are signs that drastic measures to keep people away from one another can push back the spread of the illness and flatten the infection curve.

In China’s Hubei province, where the outbreak was first spotted late last year, started lifting its lockdown.

Some train stations and bus services reopened in Hubei and people who passed a health check were allowed to travel for the first time since January.