321,943 virus cases, 13,714 deaths


Healthcare systems in some of Europe's wealthiest nations are on the brink of collapse as the number of coronavirus cases surges past 321,943 with more than 13,714 deaths globally.

Italy has announced its largest day-to-day increase in infections with 59,000 total, while there are fears UK cases are "accelerating"and Spain has been forced to set up a temporary hospital inside a convention centre.

Australia has recorded at least 1354 cases and seven deaths during the pandemic and dramatic lockdown measures will come into force on Monday. 

Terrible choices as Italian infections spike

Victoria Craw

Hospitals and emergency departments in Italy and France have described harrowing scenes where medics are forced to decide who lives and who dies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Italy has recorded its biggest day-to-day jump in infections, rising ten per cent to 59,000 people. The country has now surpassed China's death toll with 5,476 dead and no signs the peak of contagion has been reached.

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte announced further restrictions including a shut down of anything non-essential and banning people going out for exercise.

"We are facing the most serious crisis that the country has experienced since World War II," he said, telling residents there was "no alternative" than to clamp down further.

It comes as medics describe facing terrible choices over who to treat as the numbers threaten to overwhelm the most modern of hospitals.

Doctors are forced to use a military-style triage system where the most ill are abandoned in favour of trying to save others. Christian Salaroli, an anesthesiologist at Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, told an Italian paper earlier this month it's like "war surgery."

"We're in no condition to attempt what are called miracles. It's reality," It's decided by age, and health. As in all war situations," he said.

Other doctors have described using protocol from other events like organ transplants to decide who should be cared for.

"Most hospitals have rules to help the doctors, but in reality, people will not follow rules, the senior doctor will decide, because it's moving too fast," said New York University's Groceman School of Medicine director Arthur Caplan.

- With Wires

  3h agoMarch 23, 2020

New York 'ten days away' from running out of supplies

Victoria Craw

The US government is set to approve a US$2 trillion economic package that could include cash payouts for families to cushion the economic blow of the coronavirus crisis.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin expects Congress and the White House to agree on a stimulus package that would include US$3,000 cheques to last through the next 10 weeks.

The package will help small businesses through the crisis and allow the Federal Reserve up to US$4 trillion in liquidity.

Several states have gone into a drastic lockdown with residents forced to stay indoors. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was "scouring the globe looking for medical supplies."

New York mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is ten days away from running out of supplies.

"Bluntly, we're about ten days away now from seeing widespread shortages of ventilators, surgical masks, the things necessary to keep a hospital system running," de Blasio told CNN.

"If we don't get more ventilators in the next ten days, people will die who don't have to die. It's as simple as that," he said.

He warned that "the worst is yet to come" and called the fast-spreading outbreak "the greatest crisis domestically since the Great Depression" of the 1930s.

The US has recorded 26,747 cases and 340 deaths from the disease. At least 38 of those cases are in New York City's Rikers Island jail, where former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is to serve out his 23-year sentence.

  4h agoMarch 23, 2020

Wuhan has no new cases for four days

Victoria Craw

The Chinese city of Wuhan where the global pandemic was first detected has recorded its fourth straight day with no new or suspected cases.

Wuhan must go for two weeks straight with no new cases for travel restrictions placed on the city to be lifted. Other parts of China have been gradually reopening for the first time since the outbreak began with work and social restrictions eased.

But China is increasingly having to monitor new virus cases coming in to the country. All Beijing new arrivals must be quarantined for 14 days and pass a health inspection.

China recorded 81,397 infections from the virus earlier this year. It recorded 3,144 deaths in Hubei province, where the outbreak originated. However Chinese figures have been recently surpassed by Italy which has recorded 4,825 deaths from coronavirus.

  4h agoMarch 23, 2020

Iran refuses US help with virus

Victoria Craw

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has refused US help to fight the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped his country, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that the disease could have started in America.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's comments come as Iran faces crushing US sanctions blocking it from selling crude oil and accessing financial markets.

It is also battling to contain the world's sixth largest coronavirus outbreak with more than 21,638 infections and 1,556 deaths so far.

However despite the medical risks, the 80-year-old leader brandished the same conspiracy theory Chinese officials have used about the virus - claiming it may have started in the US rather than Wuhan, China.

"I do not know how real this accusation is but when it exists, who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication?" Khamenei said. "Possibly your medicine is a way to spread the virus more."

He also claimed the virus "is specifically built for Iran using the genetic data of Iranians which they have obtained through different means."

"You might send people as doctors and therapists, maybe they would want to come here and see the effect of the poison they have produced in person," he said.

There is absolutely no proof about any of these claims and Iran's senior leadership has been hit hard by the virus, with a number of high profile political cases.

  12:56 amMarch 23, 2020

1.5 million Brits receive ominous letter

Victoria Craw

Around 1.5 million of the most vulnerable British people will receive a letter from their GP warning them to stay home for the next 12 weeks in order to avoid catching coronavirus.

People with conditions ranging from cancer to respiratory disease, chronic asthma and pneumonia are among those who will get a letter in the post advising them to isolate themselves for their own safety.

It comes as confirmed cases in the UK reached more than 5,018 with 233 deaths. Health experts believe more than 150,000 people could be infected and NHS staff have been moved from other jobs to critical care work. Health bosses are also looking at how to manage critical and palliative care at a time when patients are supposed to be isolated from family members.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK "numbers are stark and they are accelerating". He fears the UK could be two or three weeks off reaching a crisis point like Italy.

He also issued a stark warning to the public on Mother's Day, urging people not to visit their mums.

"Let's all do everything we can to show our respect and love to those who gave us life and minimise the risk to their own lives….Let's stay at home, protect our NHS and together we will save thousands of lives," he said.

In London, the city worst affected, Mayor Sadiq Khan said police had been given more powers to enforce social distancing as people flocked to parks and shops.

"If it is the case that people continue to act in a way that's leading to this disease spreading, then those sorts of things will have to be considered," he said.

  12:41 amMarch 23, 2020

Madrid turns exhibition centre into field hospital

Victoria Craw

Grim photographs show an exhibition centre in Madrid has been turned into a field hospital with 5500 beds to deal with a surge in coronavirus cases in the country.

Spain is suffering from the second largest outbreak after Italy, with intensive care units and hospitals struggling to cope with the surge in cases.


The country has recorded 28,572 infections and 1,720 deaths so far. Hotels in Madrid are also being turned into wards for patients with the most serious breathing problems.

Spain's director of health alerts and emergencies Fernando Simon said more than 10 per cent of healthcare workers had also been infected - meaning more than 3400 people.

"This is a statistic that concerns us," he said.

More than 500,000 face masks will be distributed to patients and 800,000 to workers in the coming days but medical experts think it will get worse before it gets better.

Dr. German Peces-Barba, a lung specialist at Fundacion Jimenez Diaz hospital in Madrid, said more than half of the 600 beds had been dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients.

"For now, the hospitals are bearing up the huge demand, but the emergency services are in bad shape."

"We can't just repeat the slogans that we will get through this together, which are good to boost everyone's spirits," Peces-Barba said.

"But from inside the hospital the situation is such that if it lasts much longer we won't be able to resist."

- With wires

Originally published as 321,943 virus cases, 13,714 deaths

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