The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic engulfing Europe catapulted in several hotspots across the continent despite ramped up restrictions to contain the ballooning outbreak, as Asia braced for a possible second wave of infections on its shores.
The virus has upended lives across the world, forcing nearly a billion people indoors, closing businesses and schools and sparking economic upheaval that many fear could lead to a global recession unlike any experienced for decades.
It has so far killed more than 13,000 people and infected over 300,000 around the world, with the epicentre now in Europe after shifting from China where the virus first emerged late last year.
Italy marked a grim milestone Saturday, surpassing China’s death toll as it confirmed more than 4,800 fatalities — now the worst anywhere in the world.
Spain, France and UK all reported spikes in fatalities and caseloads over the weekend too, with fears mounting that numbers could mushroom in line with Italy’s in the coming weeks.
Lockdown measures in Italy have done little to stem the outbreak and the government announced the closure of all non-essential factories.
Police patrolled the deserted streets of Rome Sunday, while checks were carried out on beaches after local officials complained people were defying orders to catch some time in the sun.
In his weekly prayer — now being streamed live to avoid attracting crowds — the Pope urged all Italians to follow isolation measures.
“Let us do the things that the government asks us to do for the good of us all,” Pope Francis said.
‘Hard days ahead’
Spain has imposed similar restrictive measures, locking millions in their homes and shutting business and schools across the country, which has failed to slow the tidal wave.
It recorded close to 400 new fatalities on Sunday, bringing the total to 1,720, prompting a dire warning from the Prime Minister.
“We must prepare ourselves emotionally and psychologically for very hard days ahead,” Pedro Sanchez said Saturday.
Residents across France — where the death toll jumped to 562 — remained shut in their homes, as a curfew was imposed in some regions and the mayor of Paris called for even more drastic confinement measures in a city under lockdown.
The United Kingdom meanwhile inched toward similar measures.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday told 1.5 million high risk people to stay indoors, as he warned of “accelerating” cases.
“We are only a matter of weeks — two or three — behind Italy. The Italians have a superb health care system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand,” he said.
Pubs, restaurants, theatres and leisure centres had already been closed across the country, and the government said it could give police, public health and immigration officers extra powers to contain the outbreak.
While the number of cases in China — which reported its first local infection in four days on Sunday — has slumped dramatically since the crisis began, there are fears in Asia of “imported” cases from other hotspots like Europe.
Thailand reported its highest daily rise in cases, taking its total to nearly 600, while Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia have also reported a spike after numbers had plateaued earlier.
Millions of people in India were confined to their homes Sunday as the country went into lockdown with a one-day nationwide “self-imposed curfew”.
Normally bustling streets in the capital New Delhi and the financial hub of Mumbai were mostly deserted and many shops shuttered.
“If this helps stop the spread, then the government can think of extending it for two to three more days,” said Jaiveer Singh, a security guard at Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens park, largely empty on Sunday.
Tighter restrictions are now in place elsewhere in Asia, with Australia shutting its borders to foreigners and non-residents and Pakistan suspending international flights.