California was placed under lockdown in the most drastic step yet by a US state to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus as Italy surpassed China as the country with the most deaths from the pandemic.
The United States meanwhile is fast-tracking antimalarial drugs for use as a virus treatment, President Donald Trump said, as he lashed out at China for not informing the world earlier about the original outbreak.
China for its part on Friday reported a second day with no new domestic cases since the virus appeared in the central city of Wuhan in December, before spreading worldwide.
While there was a glimmer of hope in China, several countries tightened their borders and imposed lockdowns, trapping tens of millions of people in their homes.
And the UN chief warned “millions” could die if the virus spreads unchecked around the globe.
Governments and central banks have unleashed a blockbuster series of measures to prop up the teetering global economy, only to see the once-in-a-century pandemic seemingly spiral further out of control.
The death toll soared in Europe as Italy announced another 427 fatalities on Thursday, taking its total to 3,405, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.
China has officially reported 3,248 deaths from the virus, which can cause respiratory failure, particularly in the elderly.
Globally, the death toll from the virus has risen to almost 10,000 with more than 232,000 cases in 158 countries and territories, according to the AFP tally.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Thursday of the virus’s potentially devastating effects.
“If we let the virus spread like wildfire — especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world — it would kill millions of people,” Guterres said.
‘Paying a big price’
The number of infections and deaths in the rest of the world has surpassed those in China, which appears to have staunched the virus with strict measures including a complete quarantine of Wuhan since January.
Trump, who has come under fire for his response to the crisis, charged Thursday that the world was paying for China’s lack of transparency about the outbreak there.
“It could have been contained to that one area of China where it started. And certainly the world is paying a big price for what they did,” he said.
Trump said US authorities were fast-tracking antimalarials chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for use as a coronavirus treatment, making them available “almost immediately.”
The drugs are synthetic forms of quinine, which has been used to treat malaria for centuries.
As the toll surged in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the national lockdown, which has been copied around Europe, would be prolonged to April 3.
France also mooted extending its two-week lockdown ordered this week by President Emmanuel Macron, as the interior minister blasted “idiots” who flout home confinement rules and put others at risk.
In Argentina, President Alberto Fernandez announced a “preventative and compulsory” lockdown from Friday to March 31, while Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state will close its famed beaches as well as restaurants and bars for 15 days to try to contain the pandemic.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state’s lockdown — affecting more than 39 million people — would begin Thursday evening in a “recognition of our interdependence”.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country could “turn the tide” on coronavirus within 12 weeks — but only if people heed advice to avoid social contact.
The disease continued to hit high-profile figures with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Monaco’s Prince Albert II and at least a half-dozen NBA players in the United States among those testing positive.
Also falling victim to the pandemic was the G7 summit in June, which was meant to be hosted by Trump at the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington. The group of seven wealthy democracies will now meet via videoconference.
And as the Olympic flame arrived in Japan Friday to a muted reception, Tokyo Games organizers faced renewed calls for the event to be delayed.
“It should be postponed under the current situation where athletes are not well prepared,” Japan Olympic Committee member Kaori Yamaguchi told the Nikkei daily in an interview published the day the flame landed.
With countries paralysed by the pandemic and stock markets imploding, policymakers this week unleashed a wave of measures to shore up the global economy.
The European Central Bank announced a 750-billion-euro bond-buying scheme, dubbed the “big bazooka.”
In the United States, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged Congress to pass a $1-trillion emergency stimulus package.
Asian equities enjoyed some much-needed gains Friday after Wall Street finished higher following a volatile session as investors weighed the government stimulus measures against some of the first data pointing to a sharp US economic slowdown.
European stocks also staged a rebound on the stimulus news.
The battle is only just beginning across the rest of the world, with the shadow of the virus lengthening across Africa.
The Nigerian mega-city of Lagos announced it would shut its schools while Burkina Faso confirmed the first death in sub-Saharan Africa.
Russia reported its first death and even the Pacific nation of Fiji said it had its first case.
Countries are taking increasingly drastic steps to stem infections, with Australia and New Zealand banning non-residents from arriving.
The United States warned against international travel due to the pandemic and advised citizens to come home if possible.
Britain closed dozens of London Underground stations and shut down schools.
The EU closed its borders to outsiders and in many countries bars, restaurants and most shops have closed their doors until further notice.
Spain, which is on a near-total lockdown, on Thursday ordered all hotels to close immediately.
Reporting by AFP
Image: China reported on Friday a second day with no new domestic cases of the virus since it appeared in the central city of Wuhan in December (AFP/STR)