The number of confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide topped 600,000 on Saturday as new cases stacked up quickly in Europe and the United States and officials dug in for a long fight against the pandemic, The Associated Press writes.
The latest landmark came only two days after the world passed half a million infections, according to a tally by John Hopkins University, showing that much work remains to be done to slow the spread of the virus. It showed more than 607,000 cases and a total of over 28,000 deaths.
While the U.S. now leads the world in reported infections — with more than 104,000 cases — five countries exceed its roughly 1,700 deaths: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France, AP adds.
“We cannot completely prevent infections at this stage, but we can and must in the immediate future achieve fewer new infections per day, a slower spread,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in quarantine at home after her doctor tested positive for the virus, told her compatriots in an audio message. “That will decide whether our health system can stand up to the virus.”
The virus already has put health systems in Italy, Spain and France under extreme strain. Lockdowns of varying severity have been introduced across Europe, nearly emptying streets in normally bustling cities, including Paris where drone photos showed the city’s landmarks eerily deserted.
Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said that Germany — where authorities closed nonessential shops and banned gatherings of more than two in public — won’t relax its restrictions before April 20.
Spain, where stay-at-home restrictions have been in place for nearly two weeks, reported 832 more deaths on Saturday, its highest daily total yet, bringing its total to 5,690. Another 8,000 confirmed infections pushed that count above 72,000.
Doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers in its worst-hit regions are falling ill at an alarming rate and working nonstop. More than 9,000 health workers in the country have been infected.
“We are completely overwhelmed,” said ambulance medic Pablo Rojo at Barcelona’s Dos de Maig hospital. “Seven or eight (patients transported today) and all with COVID-19. … And the average age is decreasing. They’re not 80 years old anymore, they are now 30 and 40 years old.”
“Sometimes you become a bit paranoid, you don’t know any more when you pick up the phone if you have cleaned your hands, if you’ve sanitized them or not. You touch your face with your hands,” Rojo said.
Spain has struggled to get coronavirus tests and protective gear for health workers. The government has started flights to transport the supplies directly from China to reduce waiting times, AP noted.
As the epicenter has shifted westward, the situation has calmed in China, where some restrictions on people’s lives have now been lifted. Six subway lines restored limited service in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December, after the city had its official coronavirus risk evaluation downgraded from high to medium on Friday. Five districts of the city of 11 million people had other restrictions on travel loosened after their risk factor was downgraded to low.