Spain's death toll has risen to more than 3400. Picture: AFP/Oscar Del Pozo
Spain's death toll has risen to more than 3400. Picture: AFP/Oscar Del Pozo

Spain's staggering toll overtakes China

Another 738 people have died from the coronavirus in Spain, pushing its death toll above China's to 3434.

The country's total toll is now second only to Italy, where more than 6800 people have died.

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, a huge exhibition centre in London is being converted into a makeshift hospital as Britain prepares for potentially thousands more cases.

More than 440,000 COVID-19 infections have now been confirmed across 172 countries, and more than 19700 people have died.

5m agoMarch 26, 2020HIGHLIGHT

Italy's death toll surpasses 7500

Gavin Fernando

Italy has reported 683 new deaths in the coronavirus pandemic, bringing the country's total to 7,503.

The number of confirmed cases rose to 74,386, appearing to level off but not dropping dramatically from previous days.

Lombardy, the hardest-hit region in the north, reported a sharp fall in deaths, with 4,474 deaths and 32,346 cases.

 

  2h agoMarch 26, 2020HIGHLIGHT

Global number of virus cases reaches 440,000

Alle McMahon

More than 440,000 cases of coronavirus have now been confirmed across 172 countries, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Nearly 19800 people have died, while close to 112,000 people have recovered.

The most deaths have occurred in Italy (6800+), Spain (3400+), China (3100+) and Iran (2000+).

New York is one of the worst-hit states in the world, with more than 26000 confirmed cases alone.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the pandemic has "accelerated over the last two weeks" and it is now worried about the danger it poses to "people already affected by crisis".

"People and communities that are already uprooted due to conflict, displacement, the climate crisis or other disease outbreaks are the ones we must urgently prioritise," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said overnight.

  3h agoMarch 26, 2020HIGHLIGHT

New Zealanders asked to stay in their 'bubble'

Alle McMahon

New Zealanders are waking up to an eerie calmness that will be their new normal for the next month.

There are fewer cars on the road, a vastly reduced number of trains, busses and aeroplanes running to their schedules, and almost no-one on the sidewalks.

It comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern enforced a lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

However, unlike Australia, New Zealand is heading into a major clampdown ahead of any loss of life.

Only 205 cases have been reported in New Zealand, and there have been no deaths. Just six people are currently in hospital, each in a stable condition.

"The numbers will go up. The modelling suggests we may have several thousand cases. That could be within a 10-12 day period," Ms Ardern said.

"But if we all follow the rules we should then see a difference being made."

Citizens are being asked to stay home wherever possible, and limit physical contact to just their their household, partners or children.

Kiwis that live alone can nominate one person to spend time with, to ensure a degree of closeness to those most isolated.

Personal groupings are being referred to as your "bubble", with microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles saying maintaining the integrity of your bubble is the most important factor.

"You are in a bubble … and you need to stay in your bubble and if you get out of your bubble you're going to pop that bubble and that's going to put us all at risk," she told Radio NZ.

-AAP

  3h agoMarch 26, 2020

Putin postpones controversial Russian vote

Alle McMahon

Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed a vote on constitutional change that would potentially allow him to stay in power until 2036, due to coronavirus concerns.

In a rare televised address to the nation, Mr Putin said the vote, which had been due to take place on April 22, would be "postponed to a later date" without specifying when.

"The health, life and safety of people is our absolute priority," he said.

The reforms, proposed by the president and approved by politicians over the last few months, would reset presidential term limits and potentially allow Mr Putin, in power for 20 years, to stay in office until 2036.

Critics have denounced the project as a way for Mr Putin to remain "president for life".

The President also took the unusual step of declaring March 28 to April 5 a non-working week in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, urging Russians to stay at home.

"It is extremely important now to prevent the threat of the disease spreading rapidly," he said.

"This can affect everyone. What is happening today in many Western countries - in Europe and across the ocean - can become our nearest future."

On Wednesday, Russia recorded its biggest spike in confirmed coronavirus infections so far, with 163 new cases for a total of 658 across the country.

One person who was infected has died, but officials are not linking the death to the virus.

Earlier this week, the President was photographed in a yellow hazmat suit as he visited a major hospital treating coronavirus patients.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told him that the actual number of cases was probably "significantly" higher than official figures.

- With wires

  12:55 amMarch 26, 2020HIGHLIGHT

Life slowly returning to normal in China

Alle McMahon

Life in China's virus-hit Hubei province is slowly returning to normal, with factory workers heading back to work and cars back on roads.

In Wuhan, where the new coronavirus was first detected in December, residents are now allowed out of the city, but cannot leave Hubei until April 8.

Travellers are also still being checked for the virus's telltale fever and are required to use smartphone apps that keep track of their health reports and whether they have been to risky areas.

A train left the previously locked-down city of Huanggang on Tuesday night carrying 1,133 factory workers back to jobs in Guangdong province, the center of China's export-driven manufacturing industries in the southeast, according to government-run People's Daily newspaper.

"Resumption of labor and production is urgent!" the newspaper said.

But there is no word on when schools, which have been teaching online and through social media, might reopen in Hubei.

"We still feel it is not the right time to resume classes," said Li Zhen, a teacher at the Yingshan County Experimental School in Huanggang.

Once they reopen, teachers expect schools to screen visitors and "slow down the process of teaching a little bit to let the students catch up to the rhythm of study in the classroom after being away for months," Li said.

The owner of a private school in Xiangyang said he won't reopen until the outbreak is declared "completely under control."

He said his 40-member staff have been teaching online but the school lost 500,000 yuan (A$117,000) over the past two months.

"I am not dreaming about getting aid, but I hope the government can help ordinary people," said the owner, who would give only his surname, Shi.

Mr Shi, a 31-year-old father of two, said his students spent the lockdown indoors reading books and watching TV.

"I told them not to go outside because there was a monster out there," he said.

- With wires

  12:28 amMarch 26, 2020HIGHLIGHT

'Delhi looks like a ghost town'

Alle McMahon

New Delhi has turned into a "ghost town" as India hunkers down to slow the spread of the virus.

Everything but essential services like supermarkets are now closed and normally busy streets and railway stations are deserted and eerily silent.

"Delhi looks like a ghost town," lawyer Nishank Gupta said. "I have never seen the city so quiet before."

India has so far only reported about 450 cases of COVID-19 because of limited testing and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has warned the virus could set the country back decades.

The country is home to the second-largest number of people living in extreme poverty, and many areas have poor sanitation and health care.

Officials are also struggling to enforce the restrictions.

Tarique Anwar, a former banker, said he went out to buy milk and vegetables at a grocery store in Delhi's Jamia Nagar neighborhood when he was confronted by a group of policemen who ordered him to go back. He only managed to get vegetables.

A video shot by a passerby showed a policeman using his baton to smash the interior of a meat shop in the capital's Zakir Nagar neighborhood.

The shop's owner said police also beat him up and told him he shouldn't have opened his shop.

"They charged inside and started abusing and beating me," said Parvez, who uses only one name.

- With wires

  12:05 amMarch 26, 2020HIGHLIGHT

Spain now second deadliest outbreak behind Italy

Alle McMahon

Spain's death toll from the coronavirus has shot up by more than 700 to 3434, making it now the world's second deadliest outbreak behind Italy.

It also surpasses China's death toll, which stands at 3285.

Fernando Simon, the head of Spain's health emergency coordination centre, said he hoped the numbers would peak soon.

"If we are not already at the peak, we are very close," he said. "I cannot say that we have reached it."

But even once the numbers peak, it would be "counterproductive" to think about relaxing restrictions anytime soon, he added.

The elderly are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and Spain's nursing home system has been hit particularly hard.

Prosecutors are investigating several homes after military troops disinfecting them discovered elderly people living among suspected coronavirus victims who had died.

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

The residence hung up when called by The Associated Press, but its management released a statement saying it had been pleading for more staff and supplies, including virus tests, after 55 of its workers had been forced to take medical leave.

With its health system overwhelmed, Spanish hotels have been converted into hospitals and a Madrid ice rink is being used as a temporary morgue.

 

The ice rink that's being used as a morgue in Madrid. Picture: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

- With wires

  11:44 pmMarch 26, 2020HIGHLIGHT

London's plans for huge new field hospital

Alle McMahon

London's huge ExCel Centre is being converted into a makeshift hospital as the UK prepares for potentially thousands more coronavirus cases.

The exhibition centre - which has previously been used for comic conventions - is expected to include 4000 beds over two separate wards.

It will be staffed by National Health Service (NHS) workers with help from the military.

"We will next week open a new hospital, a temporary hospital, the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel centre in London," Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

"The NHS Nightingale Hospital will comprise of two wards, each of 2000 people. With the help of the military and NHS clinicians, we will make sure we have the capacity we need so everyone can get the support they need.

"But no matter how big we grow the NHS, unless we slow the spread of this virus, then as we've seen those numbers will continue to rise. And that's why it's so important that everybody follows the advice and stays at home."

 

The announcement comes as the UK's intensive care units have been overwhelmed with virus patients. Last week, one hospital declared a "critical incident" after running out of beds.

More than 8000 cases of the COVID-19 disease have been confirmed across the UK so far, and more than 400 people have died.

In Britain's most high-profile case, Clarence House announced Prince Charles had tested positive on Wednesday.

"He has been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health and has been working from home throughout the last few days as usual," it said.

The Queen is in "good health" and last saw the Prince two weeks ago, Buckingham Palace said.

 

Prince Charles' movements are now under scrutiny. Picture: Yui Mok/PA/AP

A British diplomat also died of the virus in Hungary on Wednesday.

Stephen Dick, 37, was the deputy ambassador in Budapest, and was not believed to have any underlying medical conditions.

In London, new measures have been brought in to reduce the number of people travelling on the city's busy tubes. They include turning off escalators and deploying hundreds of police.

On Tuesday, pictures had emerged of commuters continuing to pile into carriages despite government advice to stay home.

Originally published as Spain's staggering toll overtakes China


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