British PM fights virus in intensive care as global deaths soar

LONDON (AFP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson battled the coronavirus in intensive care yesterday as death tolls in the United States (US) and Europe reached new heights from the pandemic sweeping the world.

Johnson, 55, moved into intensive care when his condition worsened 10 days after his diagnosis. A senior Cabinet minister said Johnson had been given oxygen but had not been put on a ventilator.

His case has highlighted the global reach of COVID-19, which has put more than half of the planet on some form of lockdown, upended societies and wrecked economies worldwide. The disease’s relentless march across the planet has now claimed more than 75,000 lives out of more than 1.3 million confirmed cases, with warnings that much worse is yet to come.

The number of daily deaths in Spain rose to 743 yesterday, after France on Monday recorded a new surge of 833 fatalities and Italy saw its death toll shoot up after days of dropping.

And the United States – which has by far the most number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world — recorded 1,150 deaths over 24 hours, Johns Hopkins University said.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson. PHOTO: AP
A worker cleans the pavement close to the Plaza Mayor square during the lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus in downtown Madrid, Spain. PHOTO: AP

There were however glimmers of hope in the daily diet of deadly statistics.

In China, where the virus originated late last year, there were no new deaths reported for the first time, just a day before it plans to lift travel curbs from the contagion’s epicentre of Wuhan.

In New York state, the US epicentre of the crisis, the rate of growth in the death toll appeared to be slowing, although state Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that “now is not the time to be lax”.

“New York City is fighting back. We have an invisible enemy. We have a ferocious enemy. But this city is fighting back with everything we’ve got,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But amid fears of a second wave in Asia, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency in Tokyo and six other parts of the country.

Singapore’s usually bustling business district fell silent as most workplaces closed to stem the spread amid a new surge of cases in the city-state.

The virus is stretching medical facilities to the limit and the World Health Organization warned there was a global shortage of six million nurses.

People around the world have been forced to improvise as supplies run short, with bodies packed in cardboard coffins in Ecuador and a mosque converted into a makeshift mask factory in Iran.

Undertakers in New York are so overworked that a city official raised the possibility of carrying out temporary burials in a public park.

“Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line. It will be done in a dignified, orderly and temporary manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take,” tweeted Mark Levine.

New York City funeral home director Pat Marmo said he was dealing with three times more bodies than normal.

“It’s almost like 9/11, going on for days and days and days,” he said.