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An airport security staff member wearing protective gear, amid concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, waits for passengers to escort them to a bus at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai on March 19, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: There was hope in the fight against the coronavirus on Thursday when the Chinese city where the virus first took hold reported no new homegrown cases, but this was overshadowed by the death toll in Italy which was poised to overtake that of China.

The worldwide death toll crept toward 10,000 as the total number of infections topped 220,000, including nearly 85,000 people who had recovered.

Italy, a country of 60 million, registered 2,978 deaths on Wednesday after another 475 people died. UN and Italian health authorities have cited a variety of reasons for Italy’s high toll, key among them its large elderly population that is particularly susceptible to developing serious complications from the virus, AP reported. Italy has the world’s second oldest population after Japan’s and the vast majority of Italy’s dead - 87 per cent - were over age 70.

The American death toll rose to 149, primarily elderly people. Experts have said Italy’s high death rate is a result of the almost total collapse of the health system in some parts.

A total of 222,642 cases have been reported worldwide, with 9,115 deaths and 84,506 recoveries, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

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People deliver food to residents over a barrier set up to prevent people from entering or leaving a residential community in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province on March 16. Image Credit: AFP

German army on standby to help with coronavirus crisis

The German military is making preparations to help tackle the coronavirus crisis should other civil servants become overwhelmed with the outbreak, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Thursday. “We are preparing for a worst-case scenario where a very large number of people will become infected and we have the human resources to help,” she said. The number of confirmed cases in Germany jumped by almost a third on Thursday to reach 11,000, with 20 known deaths to date, according to the Robert Koch Institute for Disease Control, Reuters reported. This has confirmed fears that Germany risks ending up with thousands of people needing hospitalisation, which would overwhelm its healthcare system just like in Italy.

COVID-19 mortality was 1.4% in outbreak epicentre: study

The novel coronavirus proved deadly in 1.4 per cent of all people infected in the Chinese outbreak city of Wuhan, far lower than global estimates of the killer pandemic, researchers said Thursday. COVID-19 cases are soaring, with more than 200,000 confirmed since cases emerged in Wuhan late last year.

The World Health Organisation said this month that COVID-19 proves deadly in 3.4 per cent of confirmed cases. But with limited testing capacity and confirmed cases likely to be towards the severe end of the spectrum, several experts have suggested the true mortality rate may be significantly lower, AFP reported.

Fresh data has found that the probability of dying after developing COVID-19 symptoms was 1.4 percent.

Madrid hotel transformed into coronavirus hospital

A four-star Madrid hotel was transformed Thursday into a medical care facility to treat people with mild cases of coronavirus in a bid to ease pressure on hospitals grappling with the pandemic. Regional authorities in Madrid, the area of Spain hardest-hit by the outbreak, plan to repurpose more hotels over the coming days to treat coronavirus patients, Reuters reported. This will help “alleviate the pressure” on hospitals which are starting to become overcrowded and free up beds for more seriously ill patients, the regional government of Madrid said in a statement. Spain announced that deaths from the novel coronavirus had jumped by nearly 30 percent over the past 24 hours to 767, while the total number of confirmed cases of the disease jumped by around 25 percent to 17,147.

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People queue outside of a Costco store in Watford, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Britain, on March 19, 2020. Image Credit: REUTERS

First coronavirus death reported in Russia

Moscow city authorities on Thursday reported Russia’s first coronavirus-related death, a 79-year-old woman in Moscow with underlying health issues, as President Vladimir Putin said authorities fighting the virus should be ready for anything, Reuters reported. Russia has temporarily barred entry to foreigners and imposed restrictions on flights and public gatherings. It has reported 199 coronavirus cases so far, a figure that has risen sharply in recent days.

Moscow’s coronavirus crisis centre said that an elderly woman had died from pneumonia in the capital after being diagnosed with the illness. In a subsequent statement, however, it said she had died because of a detached blood clot.

Britain urges citizens to stay off public transport

In London, the government urged people to stay off public transportation as authorities considered imposing tougher travel restrictions. The British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s reserved the first hour of shopping for vulnerable customers, AP reported.

In a high-profile case, Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief negotiator for its future relationship with Britain after Brexit, said he had been infected with the coronavirus. “I am following all the necessary instructions, as is my team,” the 69-year-old Barnier said in a tweet. “For all those affected already, and for all those currently in isolation, we will get through this together.”

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An empty Times Square is seen following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York City, on March 18, 2020. Image Credit: REUTERS

Ukrainian man in wetsuit arrested after smuggling surgical masks into Romania

Border guards have arrested a man in a wetsuit who admitted to smuggling surgical masks across a river from Ukraine into Romania, Ukraine’s border guard service said on Thursday. The Ukrainian authorities say such masks have become more popular than cigarettes to smuggle across the border into the European Union, with demand spiking due to the coronavirus epidemic. Ukraine has forbidden the export of medical masks in order to bolster domestic supplies.

The arrest follows the seizure of thousands of masks at border checkpoints and also the arrest of a group of people suspected of trying to rob surgical masks at gunpoint from a private seller in Kiev. Border guards spotted the 29-year-old man coming out of the water in the Tisza river. He tried to escape but was detained after the guards fired a warning shot, a statement said.

Thailand says all international arrivals need virus-free certificate

Thailand’s government is imposing stricter rules on international travel that require people arriving from all countries to have health certificates stating they do not have the coronavirus, along with medical insurance covering the disease. The measures fall short of the total bans on international flights many countries have enacted, but are expected to sharply cut the number of visitors. A government spokeswoman said the measures will be implemented “from now on,” but that the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand still needs to prepare the implementing guidelines.

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Ruchit Sane (groom) and Akshita Vaidya (bride) share a light moment during their wedding ceremony in Mumbai, on Thursday, March 19, 2020. In the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the state government has imposed restrictions on large scale public and private gatherings to prevent the spread of the disease. The couple, Ruchit Sane and Akshita Vaidhya, who had initially invited 800 people, had to limit their list of guests to less than 100 people. Image Credit: PTI

Chinese probe criticises police reprimand of virus doctor

China’s top disciplinary body has criticised how police handled the case of a Chinese doctor who was reprimanded for rumour-mongering after he shared a warning with others about the coronavirus in the early days of the outbreak.

Dr. Li Wenliang later died from the virus, sparking a national outpouring of grief and criticism of authorities on social media. Chinese media reports late Thursday said an investigation by the State Supervision Commission, China’s top disciplinary body, found that the reprimand was inappropriate. It urged the police to revoke the reprimand and hold those involved accountable.

First death in Jamaica

Jamaican authorities say the country has recorded its first death from the coronavirus. The island’s health ministry says a 79-year-old man who suffered from diabetes and hypertension died Wednesday in a hospital in the capital of Kingston while being transferred from a hospital in western Jamaica. The man, who had recently returned to Jamaica from New York, visited the hospital on March 16, and was immediately isolated. Jamaica had 15 confirmed cases of the virus and was awaiting results for six more people. There were 105 people in quarantine.

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A police vehicle patrols the A12 motorway as trucks are stuck in a traffic jam stretching more than 65 km towards Berlin from the German-Polish border near the eastern German town of Frankfurt (Oder) due to travel restrictions to counteract the spread the new corounavirus COVID-19 on March 18, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Indonesia orders more coronavirus tests as deaths climb

Faced by a rising death toll from coronavirus and a big jump in infections, Indonesia’s president on Thursday called for testing to be stepped up immediately in the world’s fourth most populous country, Reuters reported. Less than three weeks since the country of more than 260 million people announced its first case of the virus, its death toll had reached 25 - higher than in any other Southeast Asian country. The number of infections in Indonesia jumped by 82 to 309, which together with daily rises of 110 in Malaysia and 60 in Thailand sent the number of reported infections across Southeast Asia to well over 2,200 - up more than 15% in one day. “I ask that the number of testing kits and the number of test centres are increased and we get more hospitals involved,” President Joko Widodo said.

- with inputs from agencies