Glimmer of hope in Europe as US braces for 'hardest week'

Glimmer of hope in Europe as US braces for 'hardest week'

Italy coronavirus
A woman donates blood at a Red Cross mobile unit in Rome, Italy. (Mauro Scrobogna/LaPresse via AP)

ROME: European nations most ravaged by the new coronavirus on Sunday (Apr 5) reported encouraging signs in their fight against the deadly pandemic, as the United States braced for what may be its "hardest" week in recent memory.

While Queen Elizabeth II delivered a rare televised address in a bid to calm public nerves about the deadly outbreak, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken to hospital 10 days after he was diagnosed with coronavirus.

Italy reported its lowest daily death toll in two weeks, in a possible sign the tide may be turning in the deadliest disaster the country has faced since World War II.

READ: Italy cheers first drop in critical virus patients

"This is good news but we should not let our guard down," civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters.

Italian soldiers
Soldiers patrol in front of the Duomo gothic cathedral in Milan, Italy. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)

In Spain, officials said the number of fatalities had fallen for the third straight day while France reported its lowest daily toll in a week.

Across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump has warned Americans to brace for a "very horrendous" number of deaths in the coming days, as the number of confirmed cases there surged past 300,000 - the highest in the world.

READ: US has most COVID-19 cases in the world

In New York state alone, the US epicentre, the death toll jumped over the past 24 hours to over 4,100.

The rapid march of the virus has claimed over 65,000 lives in just three months and left about half the planet confined to their homes, drastically altering life for billions of people and plunging the global economy into recession.

With more than 1.25 million people confirmed as infected, the virus is also putting massive pressure on healthcare services, with nations both rich and poor struggling to find enough staff and equipment.

Pope Francis, head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, appealed for people to show courage in the face of the pandemic.

The elderly pontiff, who himself has been tested twice for the virus, delivered his Palm Sunday mass by livestream. Saint Peter's Square was deserted of the usual crowds and the basilica was almost empty.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis holds a palm branch as he celebrates Palm Sunday Mass behind closed doors in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican. (AP Photo/pool/Alberto Pizzoli)

And as Christians prepare for Easter - the holiest event on their religious calendar, churches are closed and masses are being transmitted on television and on social networks.

But not everywhere. In the latest sign of Americans defying stay-at-home orders, a Louisiana pastor continues to hold church services, a move blasted on Sunday as "grossly irresponsible" by Governor John Bel Edwards.

Worshippers also gathered, at what appeared to be respectful social distance, at a Sunday service in Houston, Texas.

'WE WILL OVERCOME'

In her address to Britain, which has almost 5,000 fatalities, the queen thanked healthcare workers on the front line.

"Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it," she said.

In Italy, which has been under a strict lockdown for almost a month, officials reported 525 new deaths over the past 24 hours, the lowest since Mar 19.

But its overall death toll remains the highest in the world at 15,887.

There were signs of hope too for Spain, which registered 674 deaths on Sunday, its third straight day of declining numbers. The government has nevertheless announced it is extending a near-total lockdown until Apr 25.

Spain coronavirus
People wearing face masks line up to buy supplies from a shop during the coronavirus outbreak in Barcelona, Spain. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

At a field hospital in Madrid set up at a conference centre, staff applauded whenever a patient was healthy enough to be discharged.

Builder Eduardo Lopez, 59, gave a "10/10" rating to the staff who cared for him "with tenderness and a great dose of humanity".

'OUR PEARL HARBOUR'

In the United States, New York too has set up a massive conference centre hospital, with some 2,500 beds, expected to open in coming days and be run by the US military.

US Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned that the country was facing unprecedented death tolls ahead.

"This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans' lives," Adams said on Fox News Sunday.

"This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it's not going to be localized; it's going to be happening all over the country."

The US death toll stood at 9,458 Sunday, far more than the Pearl Harbor and September 11, 2001 attacks combined.

Trump has insisted that the world's largest economy could not remain shut forever, and has repeatedly discussed possibly reopening businesses.

New York state, the US epicentre, saw 594 deaths in a single day on Sunday, slightly down from the previous day, but Governor Andrew Cuomo said it was too early to tell whether it was a "blip".

"We won't know for the next few days, does it go up, does it go down."

Cuomo had warned on Saturday that the worst was yet to come and that already strained hospitals were not prepared.

"Anyone who's not already in this fight, we need you," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

'VIRUS DEATH BETTER' THAN STARVING

Several Western countries including the US have encouraged the use of masks in public despite earlier saying that only carers needed to cover their faces - a U-turn that has angered and confused some citizens.

The advice came after some studies suggested the new coronavirus can be spread through speaking and breathing, not just coughing and sneezing.

The World Health Organization is reviewing its guidance.

Governments have launched massive, unprecedented stimulus programmes to ease pain caused by the virus lockdowns, but economists warn that the crisis could worsen poverty levels with millions of jobs lost.

Iran, whose economy has suffered the double blow of the virus and punishing US sanctions, said it would allow "low-risk" economic activity to resume as daily infection rates fell for a fifth straight day.

Iran coronavirus
A man wearing a face mask and gloves to protect against the coronavirus walks past a grocery store in northern Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Some people in poor countries are chafing against the curfews that are destroying their livelihoods.

"How can anyone stay home without anything to eat?" asked Garcia Landu, a motorcycle taxi driver in the bustling Angolan seaside capital of Luanda.

"Better to die of this disease or a gunshot than to starve to death," he said.

Elsewhere in Africa, Ethiopia reported its first two deaths.

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Source: Agencies/de

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