Coronavirus | WHO warns two million virus deaths possible as Europe clamps down

The hardest-hit US crossed seven million cases — more than a fifth of the global total despite accounting for only four percent of the world population.

September 26, 2020 03:11 am | Updated April 13, 2021 05:55 pm IST - Madrid

The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the headquarters in Geneva. File

The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the headquarters in Geneva. File

The World Health Organization warned Friday that coronavirus deaths could more than double to two million if infection-fighting measures are not kept up, as Europe tightened the screws faced with mounting cases and the U.S. crossed another bleak milestone.

Global deaths had reached 985,707 according to an AFP tally around 1800 GMT Friday, from more than 32.3 million cases.

The hardest-hit U.S. crossed seven million cases — more than a fifth of the global total despite accounting for only four percent of the world population.

“One million is a terrible number and we need to reflect on that before we start considering a second million,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters when asked how much higher deaths could mount.

But he added: “Are we prepared collectively to do what it takes to avoid that number?

“If we don’t take those actions... yes, we will be looking at that number and sadly much higher.”

The WHO warning came as Spanish officials expanded a lockdown in and around Madrid on Friday to cover one million people.

Madrid’s health authority said new rules largely banning tens of thousands from leaving their districts — in addition to the 850,000 already living under similar restrictions — would be enforced from Monday.

Across Europe, new spikes were springing up, with Poland and France the latest to register record figures.

France’s daily cases soared past 16,000 for the first time in a stark indicator of the virus’s resurgence, and the French government faced protests from the hospitality industry as it prepares tough new restrictions.

Across the Channel, British authorities announced restrictions now extending to one-quarter of the country’s population, while two supermarket chains said they were rationing purchases of certain goods to clamp down on panic buying.

Moscow ordered vulnerable residents to avoid infection by staying at home, while Israel ratcheted up its lockdown by stopping people from taking flights out of the country.

And in Brazil, the coronavirus fallout for Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous carnival grew as organisers postponed street parties in February indefinitely, a day after the official parades were scrapped.

From acceptance to outrage

Jorge Castanheira, president of the group that organises the parades, promised that “it’s not a cancellation, it’s a postponement” — the carnival’s first since 1912.

Famous for its gyrating samba dancers, drummers and dancing crowds, the carnival draws millions for all-night parties in packed streets, making social distancing all but impossible.

Brazil now has the world’s second highest death toll — nearly 140,000 fatalities against more than 200,000 in the U.S. — and is still battling to bring the virus under control.

Aside from carnival, major events disrupted by the pandemic on Friday alone included planned Australian cricket matches against Afghanistan and New Zealand, while the French Open tennis tournament said it would allow only 1,000 spectators each day.

Back in France, Marseille bar and restaurant owners gathered outside the city’s commercial courthouse to demonstrate against forced closures starting Sunday evening — “because this is where we’ll probably come to declare bankruptcy,” said Bernard Marty, president of the regional hospitality association.

Bars in capital Paris and a string of other cities will see their hours slashed, but will not close completely for now.

‘Frustrated, jaded, tired’

Eastern Europe emerged as another hotspot this week with EU officials warning on Thursday of an alarming rise in deaths and hospitalisations of more vulnerable patients in countries including Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Romania.

Poland, which was not included on the EU’s list, saw infections double from just over 700 on Tuesday to more than 1,500 by Friday.

With rising cases and hospitalisations, Madrid’s health workers were also reminded of the bleakest days of their own epidemic fight.

Diana Llorens, who works at the intensive care unit of a Madrid hospital, said the situation was leaving many in the health service feeling “frustrated, jaded, tired”.

But there was a glimmer of hope from a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which suggested masks could help spread immunity to the virus by limiting people’s exposure to only very small amounts of it.

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