Coronavirus: Spain sees record deaths; world virus infections top 800,000
Madrid - Spain and Italy are still struggling to avoid the collapse of their health systems.
Published: Tue 31 Mar 2020, 6:00 PM
Last updated: Tue 31 Mar 2020, 8:12 PM
Spain's coronavirus deaths jumped by a record number on Tuesday, March 31, as the country's medical system strained to care for its tens of thousands of infected patients and the world total climbed to more than 800,000 case.
In the United States, where the spread of the coronavirus has been accelerating, New York's governor begged for health care reinforcements, saying up to 1 million more workers were needed.
Spain and Italy are still struggling to avoid the collapse of their health systems, with Spain saying hospitals in at least half of its 17 regions are at or very near their ICU bed limits and more than 13,000 medical workers are among the country's reported 94,417 infections.
Dozens of hotels across Spain have been converted into recovery rooms for patients in less-serious condition, and authorities are building makeshift field hospitals in sports centers, libraries and exhibition halls. So far they have added 23,000 beds.
Overnight, Spain recorded 849 new deaths, the highest daily toll since the pandemic hit the southern European country. It has now claimed the lives of 8,189 people in Spain, forcing Madrid to open a second temporary morgue this week after an ice rink pressed into service last week become overwhelmed.
Authorities are shifting ventilating machines to regions with the highest number of ICU patients, and moving the patients themselves between regions "has not been ruled out," said Dr. María José Sierra of Spain's health emergencies center.
Deaths climbed rapidly in the United States, which was poised to overtake China's reported virus death toll of 3,300. But experts say all numbers reported by governments and states in this pandemic are faulty in different ways, due to the lack of testing, mild virus cases that are missed or the determination of some governments to try to shape their pandemic narrative.
"This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard," cautioned Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organization's regional director for the Western Pacific. "We need every country to keep responding according to their local situation."
Hard-hit Italy and Spain now account for more than half of the 38,714 COVID-19 deaths reported worldwide and the U.S. has the most confirmed cases at 164,610, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Italy's death toll rose to nearly 11,600 - the highest in the world by far - but its rates of new infections were slowing.
A 12-year-old girl became the youngest person to die in Belgium, which has counted 705 deaths so far, including 98 in the last day. It was not disclosed whether she suffered from any underlying condition. The country of about 11.5 million people has reported more than 12,705 infections.
National crisis-center coronavirus spokesman Emmanuel Andre said Belgian authorities expect the disease to reach its peak in coming days, and that "we will arrive at a point where we're close to saturation point at our hospitals."
To the east, Russia registered 500 new confirmed cases in the biggest spike since the beginning of the outbreak, bringing its total to 2,337. Moscow, the capital, has been on lockdown since Monday and the government is edging toward to declaring a national state of emergency.
In New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and health officials warned that the crisis unfolding there is just a preview of what other U.S. cities and towns will soon face. New York state's death toll climbed by more than 250 people in a day to over 1,200.
"We've lost over 1,000 New Yorkers," Cuomo said. "To me, we're beyond staggering already."
Even before the governor's appeal, close to 80,000 former nurses, doctors and other professionals were volunteering in New York, and a Navy hospital ship arrived with 1,000 beds to relieve pressure on the city's overwhelmed hospitals.
In California, officials put out a similar call for volunteers as coronavirus hospitalizations doubled over the last four days and the number of patients in intensive care tripled.
Experts maintain the pandemic will be defeated only by social distancing measures that have put billions of people on lockdown and upended the world's economy.
Dr. Chiara Lepora in the virus hotspot of Lodi in northern Italy said the pandemic had revealed critical health care problems in developed countries.
"Outbreaks cannot be fought in hospitals," she said. "Hospitals can only deal with the consequences."
In the southern state of Florida, officials were meeting later Tuesday to decide whether to let the infection-plagued cruise ship Zaandam dock after more than two weeks at sea.
In a South American dream trip that turned into a nightmare, dozens on the ship have reported flu-like symptoms and four people have died. The company said eight people have tested positive but 2,300 other passengers and crew are in good health.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the state's health care resources are stretched too thin to allow the ship to dock.
More than 235 million people - about two of every three Americans - live in the 33 states where governors have ordered or recommended that residents stay home.
Worldwide, 800,049 people have been infected and 166,768 have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia and even death.
China on Tuesday reported just one new death from the coronavirus and 48 new cases, claiming that all new infections came from overseas. In Wuhan, people were ready to jump, cry and "revenge shop" as the Chinese city once at the center of the outbreak reopened.
About 75% of the shops reopened at the Chuhe Hanjie pedestrian mall. Shopkeepers limited the number of people allowed in, dispensing hand sanitizer and checking customers for signs of fever.
In Serbia, Hungary and other nations, concerns were rising that populist leaders were using the situation to try to seize more power and silence critics.
A human rights expert said while she understands the need to act swiftly to protect lives, the new states of emergency must include time limits and parliamentary oversight.
"A state of emergency - wherever it is declared and for whatever reason - must be proportionate to its aim, and only remain in place for as long as absolutely necessary," said Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The economic devastation continued, with British Airways suspending all its flights at Gatwick Airport amid a collapse in demand as nations close borders and airlines slash flights.
In Japan, the countdown clocks were reset and ticking again for the Tokyo Olympics. The clocks now read 479 days to go, with the games scheduled to begin on July 23, 2021.