Glimmer of hope in Europe as US braces for ‘toughest week’

April 6 ------ European nations hardest hit by the new coronavirus on Sunday reported encouraging signs in their fight against the deadly pandemic sweeping the globe, as the United States braced for a tough week ahead. Italy reported its lowest daily toll in two weeks, a possible indication the tide may be turning in the deadliest disaster the country has faced since World War II.

“This is good news but we should not let our guard down,” civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters. In Spain, officials said the number of fatalities had fallen for the third straight day while France reported its lowest daily toll in a week. Across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump has warned Americans to brace for a “very horrendous” number of deaths in the coming days, as the number of confirmed cases there surged past 300,000 — the highest in the world.

In New York state alone, the US epicentre, the death toll jumped over the past 24 hours to over 4,100. The rapid march of the virus has claimed over 65,000 lives in just three months and left about half the planet confined to their homes, drastically altering life for billions of people and plunging the global economy into recession. With over 1.2 million people confirmed as infected, the virus is also putting massive pressure on healthcare services, with nations both rich and poor struggling to find enough staff and equipment.

Pope Francis, head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, appealed for people to show courage in the face of the pandemic. The elderly pontiff, who himself has been tested twice for the virus, celebrated his Palm Sunday mass by livestream. But Saint Peter’s Square was deserted of the usual crowds and the basilica was almost empty. And as Christians prepare for Easter — the holiest event on their religious calendar, churches are closed and masses are being transmitted on television and on social networks.

In the United States, Trump warned Saturday that the country was entering “a time that’s going to be very horrendous”. “This will probably be the toughest week,” he said. “There will be a lot of death.” But he insisted that the world’s largest economy could not remain shut down forever, saying: “I’ve said it from the beginning — the cure cannot be worse than the problem.”

New York state, the US epicentre, saw 594 deaths in a single day Sunday, slightly down from the previous day, but Governor Andrew Cuomo said it was too early to tell whether it was a “blip”. “We won’t know for the next few days, does it go up, does it go down.” Cuomo had warned Saturday that the worst was yet to come and that already strained hospitals were not prepared, while New York City appealed for licensed medical personnel to volunteer their services.

“Anyone who’s not already in this fight, we need you,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Trump said 1,000 military personnel, mostly doctors and nurses, would be deployed to help in the city, which he described as “the hottest of all the hot spots”.