Despite lockdowns, cases keep rising, straining hospitals worldwide
BERLIN — Streets, squares and highways were deserted in large parts of the world Saturday as curfews and lockdowns multiplied in the face of a rapidly advancing virus that is severely straining many health systems.
Three American states with a combined population of 70 million are moving to restrict residents to their homes to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. California started Friday and New York and Illinois were to follow this weekend. Connecticut and Oregon were preparing to do the same.
Almost a week into tight restrictions on free movement and the closure of most shops in Spain, police intensified their efforts to enforce confinement rules with fines and extra patrols to stop city-dwellers with second homes in the country from leaving town for the weekend.
Spain now has the third-highest number of infections worldwide. On Saturday it reported almost 5,000 new cases in the past day, bringing the total to nearly 25,000. The death toll rose to 1,326, up from 1,002 Friday.
As hospitals and nursing homes buckled under the burden of the virus outbreak, Spanish health authorities have acknowledged that some intensive care units in the hardest-hit areas are close to their limit, and warned that they expect infections to continue to rise before measures to reverse the trend have an effect.
The army was building a field hospital with 5,500 beds in a convention center in Madrid, where hotels are also being turned into wards for virus patients without serious breathing problems.
In Germany, once-bustling outdoor plazas fell quiet in Bavaria after it became the first of the country's states to tell people to stay home, except to go to work, buy food, visit the doctor or exercise. Police reported fewer people breaching the curfew than in previous nights.
Colombia became the latest South American country to announce a lockdown, and Sri Lanka closed all expressways for a weekend curfew.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded in Africa rose above 1,000 Saturday, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 40 of Africa’s 54 countries now have cases.
More than 275,000 cases have been confirmed globally, including over 11,000 deaths, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University. At least 88,000 people have recovered.
For most people, the new virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority recover.
Officials in many countries are desperate to prevent — or at least limit — a repeat of what has happened in China and southern Europe. The coronavirus outbreak overwhelmed medical services in the central Chinese city of Wuhan earlier this year and now is pushing them to the limit in Italy, Spain and France.
Italy’s surging case numbers have frustrated health officials. Statements by authorities earlier on in the outbreak had raised hopes that new infections might soon start dropping off. But on Friday, officials reported further record increases, with 5,986 new cases and 627 new deaths. The country, which has Europe’s largest outbreak, now has at least 47,021 cases and 4,032 dead.
On Saturday, tighter rules closing down parks and playgrounds nationwide took effect, in a desperate bid to discourage Italians from congregating outdoors.
Germany's southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg on Saturday offered to take in patients from the neighboring French region of Alsace that's struggling with a surge of infections overwhelming hospitals.