Coronavirus deaths have mounted with alarming speed in Spain, Italy and New York, the most lethal hotspot in the United States, as figures show more than one million people around the globe have been infected.
The public health crisis deepened in New York City, where one funeral home in a hard-hit neighbourhood has 185 bodies — more than triple the normal capacity. The city has seen at least 1,500 virus deaths.
“It’s surreal,” said owner Pat Marmo, adding that he has been begging families to insist hospitals hold their dead loved ones as long as possible. “We need help.”
Worldwide the number of reported infections hit another gloomy milestone — one million, with more than 53,000 deaths, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
But the true numbers are believed to be much higher because of testing shortages, many mild cases that have gone unreported and suspicions that some countries are covering up the extent of their outbreaks.
On Thursday Spain reported a record one-day number of deaths, 950, bringing its overall toll to about 10,000, despite signs that the infection rate is slowing. Italy recorded 760 more deaths, for a total of 13,900, the worst of any country, but new infections continued to level off.
France recorded a running total of about 4,500 deaths in hospitals, with 471 in the past day. But officials expect the overall toll to jump significantly because they are only now starting to count deaths in nursing homes and other facilities for older people.
As the death toll grew, so did the economic fallout of the pandemic. New unemployment numbers released on Thursday showed the outbreak has thrown 10 million Americans out of work in just two weeks in the swiftest, most stunning collapse the US job market has ever witnessed.
Roughly 90% of the US population is now under stay-at-home orders, and many factories, restaurants, stores and other businesses are closed or have seen sales shrivel. Economists warned unemployment would almost certainly top those of the recession a decade ago and could reach levels not seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Fitch ratings agency predicted world economic activity will decline by 1.9% this year with the US, eurozone and Britain down by 3.3%, 4.2% and 3.9% respectively. China’s annual growth will be below 2% as it suffers the effects of the global recession despite economic activity recovering in the country, the agency said.
At least one million people in Europe are estimated to have lost their jobs over the past couple of weeks. Spain alone added more than 300,000 to its unemployment total in March.
But the job losses in Europe appear to be far smaller than in the US because of countries’ greater social safety nets.
In the US, the Trump administration is formalising new guidance to recommend Americans wear coverings such as non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandannas over their mouths and noses when out in public and preserve medical masks for those on the front line.
But there are still shortages of critical equipment, including masks, in Europe and the US.
Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that New York could run out of breathing machines in six days. He complained that states are competing against each other for protective gear and breathing machines, or are being outbid by the federal government.
US President Donald Trump invoked the Defence Production Act on Thursday in the hope of boosting production of medical-grade masks by Minnesota-based 3M to assist first responders. Washington is also trying to crack down on a growing black market for protective medical supplies.
Nine leading European university hospitals warned they will run out of essential medicines for Covid-19 patients in intensive care in less than two weeks.
For most people, coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia.