Coronavirus | World grapples with ‘once-in-100-year’ virulence

COVID-19 has now infected more than 2,00,000 people in 164 nations; Australian PM warns crisis could last six months.

March 18, 2020 11:27 pm | Updated 11:33 pm IST

A registered nurse reaches into a car to take a nasopharyngeal swab from a patient at a drive-through COVID-19 coronavirus testing station, in Seattle.

A registered nurse reaches into a car to take a nasopharyngeal swab from a patient at a drive-through COVID-19 coronavirus testing station, in Seattle.

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide were adjusting on Wednesday to once-in-a-generation measures to battle the COVID-19 pandemic that is not only killing the old and vulnerable but also threatening prolonged economic misery.

The fast-spreading disease that jumped from animals to humans in China has now infected about 2,00,000 people and caused over 8,000 deaths in 164 nations, triggering emergency lockdowns and injections of cash unseen since Second World War.

“This is a once-in-a-hundred-year type event,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, warning the crisis could last six months as his nation became the latest to restrict gatherings and overseas travel.

“Life is changing in Australia, as it is changing all around the world,” he added, as his government prepared for a potentially exponential rise after only six deaths so far.

Alarm in Italy

There was particular alarm in Italy, which has experienced an unusually high death rate — 2,503 from 31,506 cases — and was drafting thousands of student doctors into service before final exams to help an overwhelmed health service.

Around the world, rich and poor alike saw lives turned upside-down as events were cancelled, shops stripped, workplaces emptied, streets deserted, schools shut and travel at a minimum.

The crisis has created a wave of solidarity in some countries, with neighbours, families and colleagues coming together to look after the most needy, including dropping supplies at the doors of those forced to stay indoors.

In the hills of southern Spain, applause rings out every evening at 8 p.m. as self-isolated neighbours thank health services for their work and greet each other.

Spooked by a seemingly inevitable global recession, rich nations are unleashing billions of dollars in stimulus to economies, aid to health services, loans to tottering businesses, and help for individuals fearful for mortgages and other routine payments.

“We have never lived through anything like this. And our society, which had grown used to changes that expand our possibilities of knowledge, health and life, now finds itself in a war to defend all we have taken for granted,” Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez Sanchez told Parliament.

The chamber was nearly empty with most lawmakers kept away.

Taking their cue from the waning of the coronavirus in China, where it emerged at the end of last year, optimists predict a bounce back once the epidemic also passes its peak elsewhere — hoped to be within months.

Pessimists are factoring in the possibility of recurring outbreaks and years of pain, some even whispering comparisons with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

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