British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in intensive care Tuesday fighting the coronavirus, while authorities in New York and elsewhere in Europe hoped that an apparent plateau of deaths and new hospitalizations signaled that key epicenters in the global pandemic had turned a corner.
The 55-year-old Johnson, the world’s first known head of government to fall ill with the virus, was conscious in a London hospital and needed oxygen overnight but was not on a ventilator, Cabinet minister Michael Gove said Tuesday. Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has been designated to take over with Johnson sidelined by an illness that can be debilitating even for those with access to the world’s best medical care.
“We’re desperately hoping that Boris can make the speediest possible recovery,” Gove said.
Japan’s prime minister on Tuesday declared a monthlong state of emergency for Tokyo and six other prefectures after a spike in infections there but it came in the form of a stay-at-home request — not an order — and violators will not be penalized. Japan has the world’s oldest population, a worrying target for a virus that has been killing the elderly at much higher rates than other age groups.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the first, faint signs the outbreak there may be nearing its peak but said it’s not time yet to relax social distancing restrictions.
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“The numbers look like it may be turning,” Cuomo said.
The state has averaged just under 600 deaths daily for the past four days. Though horrific, the somewhat steady daily totals were seen as a positive sign. Cuomo also reported that the number of new people entering New York hospitals daily has dropped, as has the number of critically ill patients needing ventilators. But he said the strains on the state’s health care workers were still at unsustainable levels.
The nation’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was cautiously optimistic, saying that in New York, “what we have been doing has been working.”
China, the first country to go into lockdown and among the strictest, reported no new deaths over the past 24 hours for the first time since it began publishing statistics on the virus that emerged in December in the central city of Wuhan. Many infectious disease experts, however, have been skeptical of the figures coming out of China.
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New coronavirus cases were also dropping in the European hotspots of Italy and Spain. In France, although daily deaths spiked to a record of 833, the rate of new intensive care hospitalizations has slowed dramatically.
The final travel restrictions on residents in Wuhan are due to be lifted Wednesday and Denmark said it planned to reopen schools next week for students up to age 11 — a development that feels impossibly distant elsewhere in the world.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte promised residents that they will soon “reap the fruit of these sacrifices” in personal liberties, though he declined to say when a nationwide lockdown would be lifted. Italy has the world’s highest death toll — over 16,500 — but intensive care units in the north are no longer airlifting patients to other regions.
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Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people have been confirmed infected and nearly 75,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different ways nations count the dead and deliberate underreporting by some governments. Deaths in the U.S. neared 11,000, with more than 368,000 confirmed infections.
For most people, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death. More than 285,000 people have recovered worldwide.
Stocks jumped on Wall Street and around the world on hopes that the pandemic could be slowing. Global shares were up Tuesday, as well as Dow futures, after the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 1,600 points, or nearly 8%, on Monday.
The latest data suggests social distancing appears to be working in some countries, and better than expected.
One of the main models on the outbreak, the University of Washington’s, is now projecting about 82,000 U.S. deaths through early August, or 12% fewer than previously forecast, with the highest number of daily deaths occurring on April 16. The model relies on much more robust data from Italy and Spain and from hospitals.
One unusual lockdown exception was Wisconsin, which was asking hundreds of thousands of voters on Tuesday to ignore a stay-at-home order in the midst of a pandemic to participate in its presidential primary.
South Korea said it will soon announce guidelines for hospitals on experimental coronavirus treatments using donated blood from patients who survived. Kwon Jun-wook from South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the guide will be drawn from the country’s experience with similar treatments on MERS virus patients in 2015.
In further restrictions, China and Russia decided to close their land border and river port near Vladivostok following the discovery of 59 confirmed cases.
But as effective as the lockdowns may be, they come at a steep toll, especially for the poor.
In a housing complex in the Moroccan city of Sale, over 900 people live in crowded rooms without running water or incomes. While the North African country entered total lockdown in mid-March, self-isolation and social distancing are a luxury that few families in this complex can afford.
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In Sale, children hang around the communal courtyard and run through narrow alleyways. Families share one room where they wash clothes and fill buckets of water at public fountains. Warda, a mother of three at the complex, knows the risks but sees no alternatives.
“I am scared for my children. I have to lock them indoors and stay with them, but how am I supposed to feed them?” she asked.
In a move to boost spirits in New Zealand, the prime minister clarified the definition of who is considered essential workers.
“You will be pleased to know that we do consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said just a few days before Easter Sunday.
© 2020 The Canadian Press