Italy on Friday recorded the most daily deaths of any country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and Spain had its deadliest day, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the first major world leader to test positive.
Italian officials reported 969 new deaths and Spain 769, as Europe reeled from a crisis that has put millions at risk around the world and threatened a global economic meltdown.
In other grim milestones, AFP tallies showed a total of 300,000 cases now recorded in Europe with more than 25,000 deaths worldwide, and the United States overtook China as the country with the most infections. Italy showed infection rates continuing a downward trend and Spain said its rate of new infections appeared to be slowing, but other countries were bracing to feel the full impact of the virus’s spread.
The World Health Organisation’s regional director for Africa warned the continent faced a “dramatic evolution” of the pandemic, as South Africa became the latest nation to start life under lockdown and reported its first COVID-19 deaths.
The two men leading Britain’s fight against the coronavirus – Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Health Secretary Matt Hancock – both announced Friday they had tested positive for Covid-19, as infection rates accelerated and daily death rate rose sharply.
Johnson said he began feeling unwell on Thursday and was tested on the personal advice of England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty.
Whitty, who has been working closely alongside Johnson, later said he was in self-isolation, “after experiencing symptoms compatible with Covid-19 last night [Thursday].”
The news came as the government said there were a total of 14,579 cases as of Friday morning – up from 11,658 on Thursday, while the number of deaths rose from 578 to 759.
The true number of COVID-19 cases is likely to be bigger, as Britain only tests patients taken to hospital with severe symptoms.
Johnson, whose country has seen more than 14,000 declared coronavirus cases and 759 deaths, said he had developed mild symptoms over the previous 24 hours and was self-isolating after testing positive.
Johnson, 55, announced the diagnosis in a video message on his 10 Downing Street Twitter account: “Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus.
“I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus,” he said.
Europe has suffered the brunt of the coronavirus crisis in recent weeks, with millions across the continent on lockdown and the streets of Paris, Rome and Madrid eerily empty.
In France – where nearly 1,700 people have died – the government announced it was extending its stay-at-home order until at least April 15.
“We find ourselves in a crisis that will last, in a health situation that will not improve any time soon,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.
The death of a 16-year-old girl from the virus has particularly shaken France, and shattered the belief of many young people that they are immune.
The girl’s mother Sabine told AFP that Julie “just had a cough” at first but deteriorated quickly. She died on Wednesday, less than a week after showing her first symptoms.
Focus was also turning to the United States, where the number of known infections reached more than 92,000, higher than both China and Italy.
In New York City, health workers are battling a surging toll of dead and infected at the US epicentre of the crisis, including an increasing number of younger patients.
“Now it’s 50-year-olds, 40-year-olds, 30-year-olds,” said one respiratory therapist at the Jewish Medical Center in Queens.
The coronavirus first emerged in China late last year before spreading globally, with more than half a million declared cases in 183 countries and territories.
Every day, scientists and epidemiologists pore over the exponential growth of the pandemic to see if they can get ahead of the curve to limit the spread.
Over the last six days, as many new cases have been diagnosed around the world as in the previous 80 days.
LATIN AMERICA CASES PASS 10,000
Coronavirus cases in Latin America surpassed 10,000 on Friday, according to an AFP count based on official government and World Health Organisation figures.
The first case in Latin America was reported on February 26 in Brazil, which has become the regional epicentre of the pandemic with almost 3,000 cases and 77 deaths. Overall, there have been 182 deaths from Covid-19 in Latin America and almost 10,500 cases, as of Friday morning.
The worst affected countries after Brazil are Chile with more than 1,600 cases and Ecuador with over 1,400. However, while Chile has suffered five deaths, there have been 34 in Ecuador.
Over the last week, Latin American countries have been reinforcing their measures to combat the outbreak. As well as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Panama and Venezuela are in complete lockdown.
Guatemala, Honduras and Peru have imposed night time curfews and closed their borders to foreigners.