1.3 billion people locked down in India in bid to halt coronavirus

25 March 2020, 08:24

The outbreak in India
Virus Outbreak India. Picture: PA

The move came as US congress and the White House reached an agreement on a massive American aid programme.

India’s population of 1.3 billion people has been ordered to stay at home under the world’s biggest lockdown in a bid to stop the coronavirus pandemic.

The unprecedented move was aimed at keeping the virus from spreading and overwhelming India’s fragile healthcare system as it has done in parts of Europe, where infections are still surging.

New York, meanwhile, has scrambled to set up thousands of new hospital beds, while organisers delayed this summer’s Tokyo Olympics until next year.

Financial markets continued their wild swings, with Asian benchmarks gaining on Wednesday after Wall Street posted its best day since 1933 in anticipation of the two trillion dollar (£1.7 trillion) economic rescue package agreed by the White House and US congress.

The deal would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a 367 billion dollar (£313 billion) programme for small businesses to keep making payroll.

In India, everything but essential services like supermarkets were closed. Normally bustling railway stations in New Delhi were deserted and streets that just hours before had been thronged with cars were eerily silent, with just a trickle of pedestrians.

The outbreak in Kashmir
An Indian paramilitary soldier gestures towards a Kashmiri man during lockdown in Srinagar (AP)

India has about 450 cases of the virus, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned that if he did not act now it could set the country back decades.

In Washington, top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the two trillion-dollar US domestic aid package to help those affected by the outbreak.

The deal came after days of haggling and still needs to be finalised in detailed legislative language.

With Americans’ lives and livelihoods hanging in the balance, President Donald Trump said he hoped to reopen the country in less than three weeks.

Coronavirus graphics
(PA Graphics)

He said: “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”

With infections in the US exceeding 55,000, including more than 690 deaths, public health experts have warned that failing to maintain social distancing would balloon infections to the point the healthcare system would be overwhelmed and many more people would die.

More than 423,000 people worldwide have been infected by the virus and nearly 19,000 have died, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

A recent flicker of hope for Italy, which has seen the most deaths in the world, faded with an increase in both new cases and fatalities on Tuesday.

The outbreak in Spain
A patient is transferred to a medicalised hotel during the Covid-19 outbreak in Madrid (AP)

Spanish authorities were forced to take control of an ice rink to store bodies.

There are signs, however, that drastic measures to keep people away from one another can push back the spread of the illness.

In China, the province of Hubei where the outbreak was first spotted late last year started lifting its lockdown.

Some train stations and bus services reopened in Hubei on Wednesday and people who passed a health check will finally be allowed to travel for the first time since January.

A similar easing in the hard-hit epicentre of Wuhan is planned for April 8, though buses and subways could start sooner.

Coronavirus graphics
(PA Graphics)

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

It is the latter cases – often requiring ventilators and specialised care – that threaten to overwhelm hospitals, which in several countries are already running short of critical equipment needed to treat patients and keep doctors and nurses safe.

In New York, the number of cases is doubling every three days, threatening to swamp the city’s intensive care units in the weeks ahead, governor Andrew Cuomo said. The state has recorded more than 200 deaths, or one third of the US total.

Mr Cuomo said: “One of the forecasters said to me: ‘We were looking at a freight train coming across the country.’

“We’re now looking at a bullet train.”

Mr Cuomo proposed the country should send thousands of ventilators to New York City – the metropolitan area needs 30,000 of them, he said – and demanded that Mr Trump use wartime authority to force manufacturers to produce them.

Mr Trump has invoked the Korean War-era Defence Production Act to deter hoarding, but has been reluctant to use it to force companies to produce medical supplies.

US vice president Mike Pence said on Fox News that 2,000 ventilators have been shipped to New York and 2,000 more will be sent on Wednesday.

Spain, meanwhile, registered a record one-day increase of nearly 6,600 new infections and a leap of more than 500 deaths, reaching almost 2,700.

The country started storing bodies in an ice rink converted to a morgue until they could be buried or cremated.

A woman on her balcony
A woman applauds health workers from her balcony in Vancouver, British Columbia (AP)

Also, army troops disinfecting nursing homes discovered elderly people living amid the corpses of suspected coronavirus victims. Prosecutors have opened an investigation.

In Italy, a jump in the number of new deaths and cases dashed hopes fed by two days of declines. The 743 deaths reported on Tuesday pushed Italy’s toll past 6,800.

Health minister Roberto Speranza said: “Woe to whoever lets down their guard.”

World Health Organisation spokeswoman Margaret Harris said cases around the world are expected to increase “considerably”.

With no end to the crisis in sight, the International Olympic Committee postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics until the summer of 2021 at the latest, acting on the recommendation of Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe.

A medical centre in New Zealand
Patients are screened before entering a medical centre in Christchurch, New Zealand (AP)

In New Zealand, the government declared an emergency before an unprecedented lockdown begins late Wednesday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “I have one simple message for New Zealanders today as we head into the next four weeks: Stay at home.

“It will break the chain of transmission and it will save lives.”

In Brazil, which has seen about 2,200 cases, President Jair Bolsonaro took a different approach, sticking with his contention that virus concerns were overblown.

He said: “The virus arrived, we are confronting it, and it will pass shortly.

“Our lives have to continue, jobs should be maintained.”

Mr Bolsonaro said certain Brazilian states should abandon their “scorched earth” policy of prohibiting public transport, closing business and schools, and urging people to stay home.

By Press Association

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