Worldwide, the death toll soared toward 10,009 as the total number of infections topped 244,526, including nearly 87,709 people who have recovered.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe pleaded with people to keep their distance from one another to avoid spreading the virus, even as the crisis pushed them to seek comfort.
“When you love someone, you should avoid taking them in your arms,” he said in Parliament. “It’s counterintuitive, and it’s painful. The psychological consequences, the way we are living, are very disturbing — but it’s what we must do.”
COPING WITH THE OUTBREAK:
The death toll in Italy from the coronavirus overtook China’s on Thursday, and infections in the United States climbed past 10,000, in a stark illustration of how the crisis has pivoted toward the West.
Italy, with a population of 60 million, recorded at least 3,405 deaths, or roughly 150 more than in China — a country with a population over 20 times larger.
Italy reached the bleak milestone the same day that Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged three months ago, recorded no new infections, a sign that the communist country’s draconian lockdowns were effective in containing the scourge.
On Thursday, a visiting Chinese Red Cross team criticized Italians’ failure to properly quarantine themselves and take the national lockdown seriously.
At the U.N. in New York, meanwhile, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world “is at war with a virus” and warned that “a global recession — perhaps of record dimensions — is a near certainty.”
“If we let the virus spread like wildfire – especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world -- it would kill millions of people,” he said.
The virus appeared to be opening an alarming new front in Africa and also reached at least one European head of state: 62-year-old Prince Albert II of the tiny principality of Monaco. The palace announced that he tested positive but was continuing to work from his office and was being treated by doctors from Princess Grace Hospital, named after his American actress mother.
In the U.S., the damage to the world’s largest economy kept piling up, with unemployment claims surging, as Congress rushed to pass a $1 trillion emergency package to shore up industry and help households pull through the crisis. The first of two possible rounds of relief checks will consist of payments of $1,000 per adult and $500 for each child.
The U.S. death toll rose to 160, primarily elderly people. Johns Hopkins University, which has been tallying the virus’ spread around the world, said the U.S. had more than 10,700 cases.
Health authorities have cited a variety of reasons for Italy’s high toll, key among them its large population of elderly people, who are particularly susceptible to serious complications from the virus, though severe cases have also been seen in younger patients. Italy has the world’s second-oldest population, and the vast majority of its dead — 87% — were over 70.
Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, a virologist at Germany’s Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, said Italy’s high death rate could be explained in part by the almost total breakdown of the health system in some areas.
IMPACT ON THE ECONOMY:
On a visit to hard-hit Milan, Sun Shuopeng, the head of a Chinese Red Cross delegation helping advise Italy, said he was shocked to see so many people walking around, using public transportation and eating out and partying in hotels.
“Right now we need to stop all economic activity and we need to stop the mobility of people,” he said. “All people should be staying at home in quarantine.”
Alberto Villani, the head of Italian civil protection, defended Italy’s healthcare system as he announced the new death toll, and insisted the country’s lockdown is a model for other countries.
As long as Italians ’’rigorously” abide by strict measures to stay at home and maintain social distancing, ’’Italy will overcome the challenge,” he said.
Spain has been the hardest-hit European country after Italy, and in Madrid a four-star hotel began operating as a makeshift hospital for coronavirus patients. The Madrid Hotel Business Association said it has placed 40 hotels with room for 9,000 people at the service of the Madrid region, which has near half of Spain’s 17,000 or so cases.
The British government, which was slow to react to the virus, shifted gears and drew up legislation giving itself new powers to detain people and restrict gatherings. The bill is expected to be approved by Parliament next week. In London, home to almost 9 million, authorities urged people to stay off public transportation and considered imposing tougher travel restrictions.
The British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s reserved the first hour of shopping for vulnerable customers, one of many such efforts around the world.
Full Coverage: Virus Outbreak
Jim Gibson, 72, of London, said he found most of his groceries there in a “relatively trauma-free” experience. But he fretted that he hadn’t been able to get the medicine he needed for his wife and himself, and expressed concerns that Britain’s government had been too slow in ramping up testing.
“You can’t go on ignoring World Health Organization guidelines — if they’re wrong, who the hell is right?” he said. “Let’s have no shilly-shallying.”
In China, Thursday marked the first time since Jan. 20 that Wuhan reported no new locally transmitted cases, a rare glimmer of hope and perhaps a lesson in the strict measures needed to contain the virus.
Wuhan, which has been under a strict lockdown since January, once was the place where thousands lay sick or dying in hurriedly constructed hospitals. But Chinese authorities said all 34 new cases recorded over the previous day had come from abroad.
“Today, we have seen the dawn after so many days of hard effort,” said Jiao Yahui, a senior inspector at the National Health Commission.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization warned that the virus is spreading quickly in Africa — an especially alarming development, given the poor state of health care in many of its countries.
“About 10 days ago we had about five countries” with the virus, said WHO’s Africa chief, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti. Now 35 of Africa’s 54 countries have cases, with the total close to 650. It is an “extremely rapid evolution,” she said. The first sub-Saharan Africa case was announced Feb. 28.
European stock markets were up only slightly after losses in Asia despite a massive 750 billion-euro stimulus package announced overnight by the European Central Bank.
Wall Street was calm in early trading by the standards of the past few days, when traders — weighing the increasing likelihood of a recession against the huge economic support pledged by global authorities — have caused wild swings.
With wide swaths of the U.S. economy grinding to a halt, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surged by 70,000 last week, more than economists expected.
The U.S. Federal Reserve unveiled measures to support money-market funds and borrowing as investors worldwide rush to build up dollars and cash.
Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, along with Honda and Toyota, announced on Wednesday that they would close all of their factories in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The shutdown of Detroit’s Big Three alone will idle about 150,000 workers.
Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
What you need to know today about the virus outbreak
Italy’s death toll from the coronavirus overtook China’s, underscoring just how much the outbreak has pivoted toward Europe as well as the United States. The Middle East and Africa also are seeing a worrying number of new cases.
The grim news from Italy followed the announcement from Chinese authorities that there were no new cases to report from the former epicenter of the virus, which had once seen thousands of cases a day, and its surrounding province.
Here are some of AP’s top stories Thursday on the world’s coronavirus pandemic. Follow APNews.com/VirusOutbreak for updates through the day:
WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY:
— Italy, with a population of 60 million, on Thursday recorded at least 3,405 deaths, or roughly 150 more than in China, a country with a population over 20 times larger. Italy reached the bleak milestone the same day that Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged three months ago, recorded no new infections, a sign the communist country’s draconian lockdowns were a powerful method to stop the virus’s spread.
— Not surprisingly, the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits soared by 70,000, to the highest level in more than two years. Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, forecasts that jobless benefit applications could easily exceed 1 million within the next few weeks.
— Around the United States, authorities are receiving a surge of reports about stores trying to cash in on the coronavirus crisis with outrageous prices, phony cures and other scams amid long lines, some empty shelves and patience wearing thin. An Associated Press survey of state attorneys general or consumer protection agencies across the country found the number exceeded 5,000, with hundreds more coming in every day.
— Inequality in testing has become a contentious issue, with accusations the rich and famous are jumping the line. Celebrities, politicians and professional athletes faced a backlash this week as several revealed that they had been tested for the coronavirus, even when they didn’t have a fever or other symptom.
— Stocks were gaining momentum in afternoon trading on Wall Street, which saw less volatility than recent days as global authorities rush to support an economy decimated by the pandemic. Markets have swung wildly as investors weigh the increasing likelihood of a recession against emergency efforts by global authorities to support the economy.
— Americans are increasingly worried they or a loved one will be infected by the coronavirus, with two-thirds now saying they’re at least somewhat concerned — up from less than half who said so a month ago. That’s according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that finds about 3 in 10 Americans say they’re not worried at all.
— Emergency policies to curtail the spread of the virus have sent shock waves through the economy. It’s been especially difficult for small businesses, which are less resilient because restrictions on movement have reduced foot traffic. An AP photo gallery presents one New York business’s struggle.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
For most people, the 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 of people recover.
Here are the symptoms of the virus compared with the common flu.
One of the best ways to prevent spread of the virus is washing your hands with soap and water. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends first washing with warm or cold water and then lathering soap for 20 seconds to get it on the backs of hands, between fingers and under finger nails before rinsing off.
You should wash your phone, too. Here’s how.
9,000: The number of Muslim pilgrims quarantined in Indonesia on Thursday. They were attending a four-day gathering at a boarding school that wasn’t approved by authorities and drew fears it could spread the virus widely in the world’s fourth most populous nation. It was organized by a Muslim missionary movement, Jamaat Tabligh, which held a similar event in Malaysia three weeks ago that has been linked to nearly two-thirds of that country’s 900 infections as well as dozens of cases in other nations.
IN OTHER NEWS:
GO AHEAD AND BINGE: Americans hunkering down at home are occupying their time with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other streaming services. Up to a 20 percent increase is likely in the amount of time subscribers spend watching, and millions of new customers will hop aboard, one analyst predicts.
TRADITIONAL FRENCH SOAP ENJOYS REVIVAL: Amid the rapid spread of the coronavirus across Europe, the hallmark Marseille tradition of soap-making is enjoying a renaissance, as the French rediscover an essential local product. Savonnerie de la Licorne, a family business going back more than a century that runs four soap shops on the Old Port, a museum and a small factory in the heart of Marseille, has seen its shop sales increase 30% and delivery orders quadruple since Italy declared a state of emergency over the virus.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.