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Homeland Security

COVID-19 Toll Keeps Rising; Spain to Extend Lockdown

By VOA News April 04, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 1 million people and killed nearly 64,000 worldwide, according to figures reported Saturday, with Europe and the U.S. feeling the most impact.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Saturday that he would ask parliament to extend the nationwide lockdown for a second time, to April 26. The country has recorded more than 124,700 cases of COVID-19 and more than 11,700 deaths.

Italy, the second-hardest-hit European country after Spain, has had more than 11,000 of its medical workers infected by the coronavirus, according to its National Institutes of Health and an association of physicians. The groups said about 73 physicians had died from the virus. Infections among medical personnel amounted to nearly 10% of all infections in Italy.

Britain's Ministry of Justice said Saturday that thousands of prisoners would be released within weeks as part of the country's broader campaign to contain the virus. Britain reported 708 deaths overnight, boosting the country's toll past 4,300. The ministry said the inmates would be electronically monitored to ensure they remain at home and could be returned to prison "at the first sign of concern."

France's military has begun moving patients to hospitals across the country in an effort to contain the coronavirus' spread in the hard-hit area in and around Paris. Military planes, helicopters and trains are transporting patients to less affected areas in western France. More than 6,500 deaths and 83,000 infections have been reported in France.

The United States is the world's hot spot for the disease, with more than 278,500 cases, but its government remains reluctant to mount a unified approach to the fight. Instead, President Donald Trump has told states they are on their own in figuring out how to best deal with the public health crisis.

The Washington Post reported Saturday the findings of an investigation it had launched into the Trump administration's reliance on a flawed test kit developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The probe found that scientists at health labs around the U.S. were alarmed, confused and frustrated as they raced against time to identify the flaw. The report said scientists spent weeks grappling with federal regulations to get preliminary fast-track approval of tests they developed in their own labs.

The Post reported that the Trump administration got its first official notification of the outbreak in China on January 3, but that it took the administration 70 days to treat the outbreak as the deadly pandemic it has become.

The Associated Press reported that some supplies that the U.S. government sent to some states were unusable for a number of reasons, including dry rot on masks and ventilators that were broken.

The U.S. and other countries have turned to the open market to source medical equipment and medicine for the sick and supplies to protect medical workers, bidding against each other and driving prices up. A French politician told AP that the competition for supplies was a "worldwide treasure hunt."

On Friday, the CDC recommended that people wear nonmedical cloth face masks to prevent spreading the coronavirus, after weeks of assuring the public that masks were not necessary. Trump, however, has chosen not to wear a mask, saying he did not see himself sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office while wearing a face mask.

"Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens – I just don't see it," Trump said.

In New York state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak with 630 new deaths reported Saturday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that China had transported 1,000 ventilators to his state that were due to arrive later in the day.

"This is a big deal and it's going to make a significant difference for us," Cuomo told reporters as he thanked the Chinese government and Alibaba co-founders Jack Ma and Joseph Tsai for "helping make this happen."

Cuomo also said 85,000 volunteers were helping New York combat the virus and that he would sign an executive order allowing medical students slated to graduate this spring to graduate early and start practicing.

China observed a national moment of mourning for three minutes Saturday morning, as flags flew at half-staff and air sirens sounded to remember its COVID-19 victims and the "martyrs" or front-line medical workers who died in the nation's fight to save the sick.

President Xi Jinping observed the national reflection in Beijing with other Chinese leaders before the national flag, state media reported.

The coronavirus first emerged late last year in China's Hubei province. To date, it has reportedly killed more than 3,300 people in the country. There has been controversy about whether China has been honest about its medical statistics on the virus and the date when the virus first emerged.

While China appears to be in a recovery period from the effects of the virus, the contagion has been unleashed on the rest of the world. Medical workers and governments continue to struggle in the battle against the disease.

Social agencies have warned that with the almost global shutdown that the coronavirus has prompted to try to halt its spread, other issues are emerging.

The shutdown can sequester domestic violence victims with their perpetrators. School systems are moving to online classes, but not all students have the technology they need to participate, revealing a digital divide among communities. Observers say the suicide rate is likely to rise with the social isolation and the loss of jobs and money caused by the fight against the coronavirus.

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