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Coronavirus death toll in Spain overtakes China as lockdowns extend around globe

The Guardian logo The Guardian 2020-03-25 Ashifa Kassam in Madrid
a group of people standing around a bus: A patient is transferred to a medicalised hotel in Madrid, Spain. Doctors and nurses have complained of a lack of basic protective equipment. (Bernat Armangué/AP) © Provided by The Guardian A patient is transferred to a medicalised hotel in Madrid, Spain. Doctors and nurses have complained of a lack of basic protective equipment. (Bernat Armangué/AP)

The death toll in Spain has overtaken that in China, climbing to 3,434 and sitting behind only Italy, in a pandemic that has left about 20% of the world’s population living under lockdown.

After more than a week in lockdown, Spain has emerged as one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries, with 738 lives claimed in the past 24 hours. Italy remains the centre of the crisis with a total of 6,820 deaths – more than double the 3,285 deaths documented in Hubei, China.

In Spain, healthcare workers account for nearly 14% of the country’s 39,673 cases, officials say. Amid reports of overwhelmed emergency wards, doctors and nurses have complained of a lack of basic protective equipment that has forced them to ration crucial supplies and craft protective shields out of plastic bags.

Two unions representing doctors have filed lawsuits aimed at forcing the regional health authority and the Spanish government to deliver scrubs, masks and goggles to hospitals and other health centres.

Nato said on Tuesday that Spain had asked it for medical supplies, requesting items including 450,000 respirators, 500,000 testing kits and 1.5m surgical masks.

Germany and France have faced criticism over export bans on products such as masks and goggles. The EU is expected to sign off on a “more ambitious and wide-ranging crisis management system” that will include a plea for the lifting of such bans.

Around the world, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has climbed to more than 423,000. The latest confirmed cases include Prince Charles, who was showing mild symptoms, according to a spokesperson for Clarence House.

The true number of Covid-19 cases around the globe is likely to be much higher. Officials in Spanish regions such as Madrid and Catalonia initially dealt with a shortage of testing resources by asking people with mild symptoms to simply self-isolate, while Italy’s top coronavirus response official, Angelo Borrelli, has suggested the real number of infections there is probably 10 times higher than the official count.

In Ireland, the national public health emergency team announced on Tuesday that coronavirus testing criteria had been changed to prioritise people showing at least two symptoms, in response to a backlog of 40,000 cases awaiting testing.

Around the world, coronavirus has claimed more than 18,000 lives and ushered in a spate of emergency measures.

a group of people walking down a street next to a car: Police officers check people coming back from a shopping trip in the village of Herculaneum, Italy. (Ciro de Luca/Reuters) © Provided by The Guardian Police officers check people coming back from a shopping trip in the village of Herculaneum, Italy. (Ciro de Luca/Reuters)

The accelerating pandemic – it took 67 days to reach the first 100,000 cases and four days to hit the latest 100,000, according to the World Health Organization – has led to an estimated 1.7 billion people being ordered to remain at home.

Britain entered lockdown at midnight on Monday, with police asked to enforce strict limits on gatherings and exercise. Non-essential shops, playgrounds, libraries and other venues were closed.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, said people would be allowed outside only to buy food or medication, to exercise alone once a day or to travel to work if absolutely necessary. “You must stay at home,” he said.

A push for volunteers to help the NHS look after vulnerable people during the crisis has led to more than 170,000 people signing up, the NHS said on Wednesday.

The largest lockdown yet is in India, where the prime minister, Narendra Modi, has instructed 1.3 billion people to stay at home for the next three weeks, in what he called a “complete lockdown”.

“For every Indian, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Modi said.

In the US, which the World Health Organization has said could become the new centre of the global coronavirus pandemic, about 40% of the population are living under restrictions. New Zealand went into a month-long lockdown on Wednesday.

There is seemingly little consensus as to how long these lockdowns could last. The French government’s scientific advisers have recommended six weeks of lockdown, while the Spanish government is expected to seek parliamentary approval on Wednesday to extend the country’s 15-day near-total lockdown to 11 April.

Donald Trump has said he aims to reopen “large sections” of the US by Easter, potentially setting him on a collision course with health experts. When pushed for details on how he exactly he had come up with that date, Trump said he had picked Easter because “I just thought it was a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline, it’s a great day.”

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that social distancing measures and a crackdown on travel would be introduced in the next 24 hours.

Meanwhile in China, authorities announced that travel restrictions would be lifted on Wednesday in Hubei province, the original centre of the outbreak, with the exception of Wuhan where they will be left in place until 8 April.

For days China has reported few or zero domestic cases, sparking concerns from residents and analysts that the Chinese government is prioritising economic recovery over the total containment of the virus.

Allegations of new infections in Wuhan have persisted, as have reports of manipulation of figures and refusals by Chinese authorities to record asymptomatic cases, even as the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, warned local governments not to cover up new cases of Covid-19.

Reporting team: Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Delhi, David Smith in Washington, Jennifer Rankin in Brussels, Patrick Wintour in London, Rory Carroll in Dublin, Helen Davidson in Sydney, and Kim Willsher in Paris.

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