Iranian women, members of the volunteer Basij militia, make face masks and other protective items at a mosque in the capital Tehran, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic (AFP Photo/ATTA KENARE)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson battled the coronavirus in intensive care on Tuesday as death tolls in the United States and Europe reached new heights from the pandemic sweeping the world.

Johnson, 55, moved into intensive care when his condition worsened 10 days after his diagnosis. A senior cabinet minister said Johnson had been given oxygen but had not been put on a ventilator.

His case has highlighted the global reach of COVID-19, which has put more than half of the planet on some form of lockdown, upended societies and wrecked economies worldwide.

The disease’s relentless march across the planet has now claimed more than 75,000 lives out of more than 1.3 million confirmed cases, with warnings that much worse is yet to come.-

The number of daily deaths in Spain rose to 743 on Tuesday, after France on Monday recorded a new surge of 833 fatalities and Italy saw its death toll shoot up after days of dropping.

And the United States — which has by far the most number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world — recorded 1,150 deaths over 24 hours, Johns Hopkins University said.

– ‘Fighting a ferocious enemy’ –

There were however glimmers of hope in the daily diet of deadly statistics.

In China, where the virus originated late last year, there were no new deaths reported for the first time, just a day before it plans to lift travel curbs from the contagion’s epicentre of Wuhan.

In New York state, the US epicentre of the crisis, the rate of growth in the death toll appeared to be slowing, although state Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that “now is not the time to be lax”.

“New York City is fighting back. We have an invisible enemy. We have a ferocious enemy. But this city is fighting back with everything we’ve got,” said mayor Bill de Blasio.

– ‘Like 9/11’ –

But amid fears of a second wave in Asia, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency in Tokyo and six other parts of the country.

Singapore’s usually bustling business district fell silent as most workplaces closed to stem the spread amid a new surge of cases in the city-state.

The virus is stretching medical facilities to the limit and the World Health Organization warned there was a global shortage of six million nurses.

People around the world have been forced to improvise as supplies run short, with bodies packed in cardboard coffins in Ecuador and a mosque converted into a makeshift mask factory in Iran.

Undertakers in New York are so overworked that a city official raised the possibility of carrying out temporary burials in a public park.

“Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line. It will be done in a dignified, orderly and temporary manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take,” tweeted Mark Levine.

New York City funeral home director Pat Marmo said he was dealing with three times more bodies than normal.

“It’s almost like 9/11, going on for days and days and days,” he said.

As hospitals overflow, the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan is being converted to handle at least 200 patients beneath its stained-glass windows.

“In earlier centuries, cathedrals were always used this way, like during the plague. So this is not outside the experience of being a cathedral, it is just new to us,” cathedral dean Clifton Daniel told the New York Times.

– ‘Coronabonds’ –

Governments around the world are scrambling to put together rescue packages to stem the economic damage from effectively shutting down global commerce, as fears loom of a devastating recession.

Japan has promised a $1-trillion stimulus package, nearly twice as large as measures taken during the 2008 financial crisis and a staggering 20 percent of GDP in the world’s third-top economy.

With the ink barely dry on a $2-trillion economic rescue package passed by Congress, US President Donald Trump said he favoured another massive spending programme, again roughly $2 trillion, but this time targeting infrastructure projects.

“We built the greatest economy in the world. I’ll do it a second time,” he said.

EU finance ministers are expected to clinch a deal to use the eurozone’s 410-billion-euro bailout fund to fight the virus but the bloc remains divided on pooling debt to issue “coronabonds”.

But France warned it was heading for its worst recession since World War II and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union was facing its “biggest test” since its founding in 1957.

Analysts at Oxford Economics said the pandemic “may trigger annual GDP declines among the worst seen in the last 100 years” with millions of jobs being shed around the world.

Stock markets have chosen to see the glass as half-full so far this week, with the Dow Jones index soaring 1,600 points on Monday as traders saw hope the pandemic was reaching its apex.

Markets were up in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai and the London market rallied three percent in opening deals.

But away from the multi-billion packages and Wall Street swings, the coronavirus is affecting millions of ordinary people trying to make ends meet.

On a usually bustling wharf in Senegal’s capital Dakar, 23-year-old fishmonger Galaye Sarr said his produce normally gets exported to Italy but trade has dried up.

“The boats have been docked for a long time, all because of the coronavirus. And even if they go and catch fish, we can’t sell it,” he told AFP.

“We’re still trying to keep going, hoping that one day God will rid us of the curse.”

SOURCE: AFP

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