Global lockdown tightens as virus deaths mount

The number of declared COVID-19 cases around the world has topped 700,000, with 400,000 of those in Europe. Most of the confirmed deaths are also from the continent, according to an AFP tally

Harsh lockdowns aimed at halting the march of the coronavirus extended around the world on Monday as the death toll soared past 35,000 despite slivers of hope in stricken Italy and Spain.

In a symbol of the scale of the challenge facing humanity, a US military medical ship sailed into New York to relieve the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals bracing for the peak of the pandemic.

The tough measures that have confined some two-fifths of the globe's population to their homes extended further with Moscow and Lagos both joining the roll call of cities around the globe with eerily empty streets.

The number of declared COVID-19 cases around the world topped 700,000, with 400,000 of those in Europe, while most of the confirmed deaths are also from the continent, according to an AFP tally.

World leaders -- several of whom have themselves been stricken or forced into isolation -- are still grappling for ways to deal with a crisis that will have economic and social shockwaves unseen since World War II.

US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed "closer cooperation" on the pandemic and talked about plunging oil prices in a telephone call on Monday, the Kremlin said.


- 'Good for morale' -

The navy's USNS Comfort, which has space for 1,000 beds and a dozen operating rooms, docked just a day after Trump extended social-distancing measures in the United States until the end of April. 

"It will be good for morale," said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio of the arrival of the Comfort, which will care for people requiring intensive care unrelated to the coronavirus, easing the burden on an overwhelmed hospital network.

In Russia, Putin on Monday urged residents of Moscow to "very seriously" respect a lockdown that has seen the closure of all non-essential shops, including restaurants and cafes, in Europe's largest city.

Red Square in the heart of Moscow was deserted and the surrounding streets were quiet.

Anna, a 36-year-old web designer, said the lockdown would be hard for her and her five-year-old daughter. "But I don't want Arina to get sick," she told AFP while on her way to buy some bread. "So of course we will observe the quarantine."

Fears of a rise in cases drove Moscow to follow Italy, Spain and France in imposing full lockdowns, and Europe remains the epicentre of the pandemic with the death toll there passing 25,000 on Monday, according to an AFP tally.


- 'Work continues' -

After weeks of life spent under a national lockdown in Italy, signs were emerging that its drastic actions could slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Even though the country's death toll grew by 812 in 24 hours to 11,591, figures from the civil protection service showed the rate of new COVID-19 infections hitting a new low of just 4.1 percent and the number of people who had recovered reached a new high.

"The data are better but our work continues," said Giulio Gallera, the chief medical officer of Lombardy, Italy's worst-hit region. 

Spain also announced another 812 virus deaths in 24 hours.

"While the isolation measures have reduced the pressure on intensive care units, in the coming weeks it will be significant," said Maria Jose Sierra of the Spanish health ministry's emergencies centre.

Spain meanwhile joined the United States and Italy in surpassing the number of cases in China, where the disease first emerged in December in the city of Wuhan. 

France however reported its highest daily number of deaths since the outbreak began, saying 418 more people had died in hospital.


- 'Nothing to eat' -

Britain and Italy both warned at the weekend that measures to prevent the spread of the disease would be in place for months to come.

In Britain the disease has hit high profile figures including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and heir to the throne Prince Charles, who was out of virus isolation, according to royal officials.

In Israel, meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the latest world leader to go into isolation and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's third coronavirus test came back negative.

The lockdowns are causing hardship across the world but particularly in impoverished cities in Africa and Asia.

Africa's biggest city, Lagos, was due to join the global stay-at-home from Monday, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordering a two-week lockdown for its 20 million people. The measures, in force from 2200 GMT, also apply to the capital Abuja.

"Two weeks is too long. I don't know how we will cope," said student Abdul Rahim, 25, as he helped his sister sell foodstuffs from a market stall.

Zimbabwe on Monday also began enforcing a three-week lockdown in the impoverished southern African country.

"They need to be fed, but there is nothing to eat," vegetable vendor Irene Ruwisi said in the township of Mbare, pointing at her four grandchildren. "How do they expect us to survive?"

The shutdown has already put millions out of work and forced governments to rush through huge stimulus plans.

Experts in Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, said the virus would shrink output there this year by up to 5.4 percent.

The march of the coronavirus has also transformed the sporting and cultural calendar, with the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games announcing that it will open on July 23 next year.